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Orleans County files suit over WNY STAMP sewer line

By Tom Rivers
stamp sewer line
The new sewer line is shown on Aug. 12 on Route 63 in the Town of Alabama, Genesee County. Orleans County officials are seeking to stop the construction from going to the STAMP site about 10 miles north to the Oak Orchard Creek.
Photo by Tom Rivers/OrleansHub

Story courtesy

Orleans County is suing its neighbor to try to stop a sewer line from coming into the Town of Shelby and depositing up to 6 million gallons of what Orleans says is “contaminated” water into the Oak Orchard Creek.

The county on Monday filed an Article 78 complaint in State Supreme Court, seeking to halt placement of a sewer line from the STAMP site to the Oak Orchard Creek, a 9.5-mile long pipe along Route 63 that has been under construction since Aug. 3.

Orleans is asking for a temporary restraining order to stop construction so the arguments can be heard in court without the pipeline getting built in Orleans County.

See also: GCEDC board chair releases open letter to community in response to Orleans County lawsuit

The court action from Orleans County is called a “frivolous and politicized attack” in a court response from Craig A. Leslie, attorney for GCEDC and others named in the suit.

Orleans County officials contend the county never gave its permission for the project, and the Genesee County Economic Development Center formed a “sham corporation” – STAMP Sewer Works – to make the project happen.

The STAMP site is 1,250 acres and is considered a top priority for economic development officials in the region. It is targeted for advanced manufacturing – semiconductors and renewables manufacturing.

Plug Power is currently building a $290 million facility at STAMP for a green hydrogen production facility that includes an electric substation. The new facility will produce 45 metric tons of green liquid hydrogen daily when fully operational, making it the largest green hydrogen production facility in North America. Plug will employ 60 people.

Another company, Edwards Vacuum, announced last November it would build a $319 million “factory of the future” at STAMP in a project serving the semiconductor industry. Edwards plans to employ 600 high-skill professionals at the semiconductor dry pump manufacturing facility.

The commitments from the two companies follow a 20-year effort to develop STAMP in a rural area of Genesee County, only a few miles south of the Orleans County border. STAMP has been pushed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, Gov. Kathy Hochul and her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

But Orleans County officials say the Genesee County Economic Development Center has been driving the contracts for the project, including engineering and construction – and that is illegal because an economic development agency can’t fund and push projects outside its own county unless it has permission from the other municipalities, Jennifer Persico, an attorney representing Orleans County, wrote in the complaint filed in State Supreme Court in Orleans County.

orleans attorney
Jennifer Persico, an attorney with Lippes Mathias LLP, speaks during an eminent domain public hearing on July 27. She said at the hearing that the Genesee County Economic Development Center illegally created STAMP Sewer Works as “a sham corporation” to do the eminent domain proceedings against two Orleans County property owners.
Photo by Tom Rivers/OreleansHub

In the court filing, she said Orleans “strenuously objects” to the sewer project.

Genesee County EDC is illegally funding a project outside its jurisdiction, Orleans contends in its complaint. The EDC paid for easements to allow for temporary construction, including all but two in Shelby. Orleans County secured two easements in Shelby with the stipulation no sewer line can be constructed.

Orleans officials contend the sewer discharge could limit the county’s efforts to develop its own business park in Medina, and the water may cause flooding and hurt the county’s $30 million annual fishing industry at the Oak Orchard, which is world renowned for salmon and trout fishing.

GCEDC, on March 25, 2021, awarded a $9,777,000 contract to G. DeVincentis & Son Construction Company for the 20-inch sewer main, which goes from the northern refuge boundary to the north of Shelby Center. GCEDC accepted a low bid from Highlander for construction at $5,193,445 and approved a $900,000 contract and a $560,000 contract to Clark Patterson Lee for engineering services for the sewer project. GCEDC approved the bids without the consent of Orleans County.

The request for bids shows GCEDC contemplated construction in Orleans County without the consent of Orleans, Persico said.

GCEDC also has purchased 18 temporary easements in Orleans County to allow for construction of the sewer line, without consent of Orleans, a violation of general municipal law, according to the complaint.

Orleans, in the complaint, also faults Genesee County EDC for improperly forming STAMP Sewer Works, for illegally funding and noticing the eminent domain hearing at the Alabama fire hall on July 27.

Orleans seeks to have the Supreme Court annul the easements. The county also seeks to stop the GCEDC-backed project in Orleans without the county support. That includes efforts from the GCEDC-affiliated Genesee Gateway Local Development Corporation and STAMP Sewer Works.

Leslie, attorney for GCEDC, asked the judge, Frank Caruso, not to approve a temporary restraining order on the project. Leslie said the sewer line construction has received all of the needed environmental and right-of-way permits from the state Department of Transportation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cross the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.

Leslie said Orleans County shouldn’t be granted a temporary restraining order because the project is still weeks and even months from getting into Orleans. Persico wrote in her court filing the project was likely a matter of hours or days until it started in Orleans. The contractor is currently installing the sewer line in the refuge in Genesee County, Leslie wrote.

Orleans is beyond its authority and is seeking to stop all sewer line construction when the project is currently solely in Genesee County.

Leslie, the GCEDC attorney, said the claim that GCEDC is using its own money is false because the funding is part of $33 million awarded for STAMP development by Empire State Development, a state entity “which fully supports the STAMP project,” Leslie wrote.

He responded that the Town of Shelby gave its consent to the sewer line project, and so did the Orleans County Department of Health.

He asked the judge to deny the Orleans request for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order.

“Orleans County will sustain no injury by the continued construction of the Force Main, particularly in Genesee County, while this matter is appropriately determined by this Court,” Leslie wrote to Judge Caruso. “Meanwhile, STAMP Sewer will be irreparably harmed if the overbroad and unreasonable order requested by Orleans County is granted.”

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: The Batavian sought additional comment from GCEDC, and a spokesman referred us to a website that has been set up to address the issues raised by the lawsuit

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