By Jann Wiswall

A dozen or more town and village residents attended the Town of Ellicottville board meeting on Wednesday, May 17 to express support for the NY Department of Conservation’s interest in purchasing a large land parcel in Ellicottville and Mansfield for designation as a Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

The 996-acre property, about a third of which lies in Ellicottville and the balance in Mansfield, is owned by the Dattner Family and includes the former Poverty Hill/Concord Ski areas. It is being appraised by the DEC, which has not yet made an offer. It will be up to the property owners and the DEC to negotiate a sale.

According to the DEC, WMAs are actively managed to improve wildlife habitats and are funded by federal excise taxes collected on weapons, ammunition and sportfishing purchases and licenses through the Pittman-Robertson Act. The program is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which distributes funds to the states for wildlife conservation and management programs.

WMAs are public open spaces used for outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching and the like. They differ from State Forests in that they are not maintained for timber-related activities.

No roads or trails would be built and no parking areas would be designated. Motorized vehicles and horses would be prohibited.

WMAs are exempt from local and county taxes.

As reported last month, in March, the DEC wrote letters to the Mansfield and Ellicottville town supervisors asking if they had any objections to such an action. At the time, the Ellicottville board had little information about the concept, but was concerned about taking so much land off the tax rolls.

During the April board meeting, the DEC made a presentation and explained the proposal in more detail.

They also made it clear that the state seeks local municipal support for any WMA designation.

Residents in attendance at the May meeting (many of whom live near the proposed WMA) expressed broad support for protecting the property. Most felt that having a buffer from development would protect the entire community. One said that protecting open spaces “defines what the community” is all about. All seemed concerned about the pace of development on Poverty Hill where two new housing developments are under construction.

In clarifying what a WMA does and doesn’t do, board members noted that, given the source of the funding, the state’s interest is to support the hunting and fishing industries, and they reminded the group that is it up to the property owners and the DEC to agree to the sale.

However, given the obvious public support, and with more information in hand, the board resolved to withdraw any objection to the project.

The board thanked the residents for their input and support.

After the WMA discussion, the board moved on to its regular agenda for the evening. Town Supervisor Matt McAndrew reported that town and village sewer and water maintenance staff are preparing a substantial inventory of water system leak history and repairs. The team has completed flushing all town and village fire hydrants, and is conducting general maintenance.

McAndrew also reported that the town board should expect to see a draft job description for the new Public Works Director position this week. The job will be advertised as soon as it is finalized. In addition, an outline of the new Public Works Department structure (which will include all current village and town water, sewer and highway staff) with budget is in the works.

Since the new department is not yet formed, McAndrew asked the board to extend the town’s current water agreement with the village through December. The request was approved.

Progress on completing the police department’s evidence/locker room at the town highway barn is nearing completion, McAndrew reported.

Police Officer in Charge Don Auge reported that the new patrol car is finally in, as are new rifles for police officers. Rifle training is scheduled for June.

Highway Superintendent Tom Scharf said he has provided a detailed inventory of department assets with replacement priorities to the board for its review. He also reported that the new loader has arrived and that a summer roadwork plan is being finalized.

Scharf’s request to purchase a new snow plow truck (which was budgeted) for $101,000 was approved by the board.

Town Engineer Mark Alianello reported that the HVAC system installation and associated construction in the town/village hall is progressing well and the work quality is good. Problems at booster station #1 have been slower to correct, he said, but staff and vendors are working through them.

Under the heading of new business, board member Greg Fitzpatrick said he has completed an audit of the town clerk’s department and everything balances out. An audit of the court system, he said, will require an outside independent auditor.

Finally, in a discussion about the Ellicottville-Great Valley Trail, Alianello explained that easements with affected property owners along the first section of the trail must be signed; however, there has been no decision about which entity the easements will be signed over to. After some discussion, the board agreed to allow them to sign them over to the town, with the assurance that maintenance of the trail will be the committee’s responsibility.

The next meeting of the town board is scheduled for Wednesday, June 21 at 6 p.m. in the town/village hall, pending completion of the HVAC system.