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Somerset supervisor sees future of town blowing in the wind  

Richard J. Meyers looks out the windows of his century-old Lake Road home and sees the future in harnessing the wind to generate power in this lakeside farming community.

Meyers quit his job as a process specialist at Du Pont Co. last spring to start a business installing residential windmills. But after taking office last week as Somerset supervisor, he has set that aside “to look at building a wind farm for the town instead.”

Meyers, a political newcomer, defeated John E. Sweeney Jr., the incumbent, 273-236, in the Republican Party primary in September. When Sweeney mounted a write-in campaign in the November election, Meyers won again, 605-343. Democrats did not field a candidate.

The election gave Meyers the year remaining in the term of Herbert A. Downs, who resigned as supervisor last January to become administrative director of the Niagara County Water District. The Town Board had appointed Sweeney to fill the vacancy.

Meyers said he was drawn to politics when he perceived the town was stalemating the construction of windmills. The town had imposed a moratorium on windmill construction in March 2005 but adopted measures last July to govern wind power operations.

Meyers says he believes his door-to-door campaign to stir interest among residents had spurred the Town Board to act.

“I’ve always had what I’d call a “political spirit,’ ” he said.

During his door-to-door campaign, he met longtime resident Dan Hogan.

“I thought he was fantastic,” the retiree said of Meyers. “He was very direct, honest and straightforward. . . . He’s got a tough job, but he has to remember he’s got the [majority of the] people of the town behind him.”

Once Meyers won the primary, which is tantamount to election in this overwhelmingly Republican town, he really started doing his homework. He said he spent 20 to 30 hours per week preparing for his new role.

“There are a lot of things I’d like to see happen,” he said.

Board rejects move

Of course, he will need the cooperation of the board majority. He knows he’s an outsider but describes himself as optimistic.

“I think the Town Board wants what’s best for the town, just like I do,” he said. “I think if I can present to them an alternative way to attack some issues, I hope they’ll have an open mind, and we can move ahead. There are some issues we need to address, but all I ask is a fair listen.”

But things didn’t get off to a good start last week, when the board voted down his effort to seek a new town attorney.

None of the councilmen would second Meyers’ motion to extend the contract of Edwin J. Shoemaker of Andrews, Pusateri, Brandt, Shoemaker & Roberson for two months while seeking fresh bids. Instead, the board voted, 4-1, with Meyers the only opponent, to rehire Shoemaker’s firm for a full year.

During his campaign, Meyers had criticized the town’s spending on legal services. Town Clerk Rebecca A. Connolly said Shoemaker’s firm billed the town $282,889 last year. She said Shoemaker does not receive a salary or a retainer fee, but he and his colleagues charge $125 an hour for regular town business and $175 an hour for litigation.

And Somerset has plenty of litigation, primarily against AES Corp., the largest property taxpayer in Niagara County. The company is suing the town over the assessment on its Lake Road power plant, and a battle continues over environmental questions stemming from the company’s need to dig a new landfill to hold fly ash produced by coal burned at the plant.

Attorney defended Councilman Randall J. Wayner defended retaining the town attorney.

“I feel Ed Shoemaker and his firm have done a good job for the town,” he said. “We have ongoing litigation, and I felt it would be a very poor signal to consider changing attorneys.”

Wayner said he does not oppose seeking bids but says the board needs time to develop criteria for evaluating them.

Meyers said he doesn’t object to the hourly rates Shoemaker’s firm charges but to “a lack of oversight.”

“The issue is the number of hours they bill,” Meyers said. “I get an idea that if we give a certain amount of dollars [in the budget], they’re going to take all those dollars.”

Shoemaker did not return a call seeking comment.

By Teresa Sharp and Thomas J. Prohaska
Niagara County Bureau

buffalonews.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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