No ‘squabbling’ with district’s team effort

OBSERVER Photo Pomfret town Supervisor Don Steger answers a question toward the end of Wednesday’s gathering in Portland for the water district.

PORTLAND — Pomfret town Supervisor Don Steger, in his exuberance, did not need a microphone. A podium had been set up for the speakers as part of the “Turn on the Tap” event that took place Wednesday morning in front of the blue water tower off Route 5.

He shrugged off the audio — and his voice carried. History was in the making. The long-awaited North County Water District was a reality.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Steger, who also serves as chair of the agency. “A lot of people have been involved with this to get to this point.”

As with any project in Chautauqua County, it was no easy task. Along the way — as always — there are the naysayers. They are those who do not want anything to do with a project that benefits so many and others in power who want to keep the status quo because of nothing more than pride.

In Jamestown, the Comedy Center has been called a game-changer. Within the last month, based on the big names who have been to the venue, it has already built a strong reputation from here to Hollywood.Reliable water won’t win national headlines, but it looms large to every local household that turns on the faucets each day and evening. It also matters to big business. On more than one occasion, Athenex officials — who are in the process of developing a new facility with the state off Route 5 — have indicated their enthusiasm for the district.

Richard Tobe, deputy director of state operations for special projects, also heaped plenty of praise. Speaking on behalf of the governor, he mentioned the significance of what was accomplished.

“There’s no doubt that sharing services saves money as this project will,” he said. Tobe then noted that if the water improvements were done by each municipality it would have cost close to $40 million. Since it was a team effort, with the district as one, the expense was closer to about $25 million with some of those costs picked up by the state.

There has been a tendency by some in this region to scoff at the notion of sharing between entities. They believe since the savings are minimal, it’s not worth it.

That’s baloney. People in households make decisions based on what the best bargain for their dollar is when it comes to personal choices. Why can’t it be the same for the governments we pay for?

Notably absent from the event was Fredonia. No elected official was there despite a recent interest indicated by the village in joining the effort.

That also got to a point Tobe noted, which certainly reflects on our small populace.

For years, Fredonia has been on the outside looking in when it comes to shared projects. During the tenure of Mayor Michael Sullivan there was a proposal to share a court system with the town of Pomfret. That was squashed due to village revenue concerns. There has twice — in 2005 and 2016 — been discussions on a shared police facility between the village and city of Dunkirk. But when it comes time to put up or shut up, the village somehow believes the archaic facilities that its forces are currently stationed in are better than a new state-of-the-art building.

Consider the genesis of the first Italian Festival in the village. It was a fund-raiser for a new Fredonia police facility.

Just how much money was raised for a project that would likely cost more than $750,000? No one really indicated when we asked two years ago, which means that whatever was collected was probably less than posting bail for a $2,500 misdemeanor.

That is a template for false municipal pride — the thought we are better off than our neighbor.

According to Tobe, that is a dangerous outlook for any community to have in this era of governing. “You’re far more likely to get outside funding when you’re sharing with other governments than when you’re not,” he said. “No one wants to come in and provide funding to a community that’s squabbling. … When a community is in agreement, everybody wants to help. But when there’s squabbling, it’s way harder. Shared services helps bridge that gap, saying to outsiders, this community is ready to move forward.”

As the 30-minute ceremony ended and the lever was pulled to deliver water from Dunkirk to points west, former Brocton Mayor Dave Hazelton could be seen walking to his vehicle parked on Route 5. While all these district leaders, including Steger, Richard Purol of the town of Dunkirk, city Mayor Willie Rosas, Sheridan’s John Walker, County Executive George Borrello, former executive Vince Horrigan and current Brocton Mayor Richard Frost, have led the charge on the district, it is possible both Hazelton and Dan Schrantz, Portland town supervisor, had the most to lose and gain.

Hazelton decided against millions of dollars in improvements to the Brocton water plant years ago and becoming part of the district as a user. Schrantz, whose town relied on Brocton water, also consistently noted the importance and savings — to all partners — the effort brings.

On Wednesday, the district was no longer a pipe dream. Enthusiasm — and the water — after all this time was flowing.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to or call 366-3000, ext. 401.