This past year has provided no shortage of news in our local area, and the newspaper would like to recap what we feel are some of the notable local news highlights. The collected stories are not in any particular order.
Junior Masters Allows Girls to Compete
After 63-years, female golfers were allowed to compete in the East Aurora Country Club’s International Junior Masters Golf Tournament.
The competition began on June 29 with 88 golfers from the United States, Mexico and Columbia who are 18-years-old or younger. Of the eight female golfers competing, one was from East Aurora: Gwen Yarnall. Other female athletes were from Williamsville, Rochester, Peru, Ohio and Maryland.
MOOG on Mars
Moog, Inc. played a critical role in the success of NASA’s Perseverance Rover landing on Mars on Feb. 21.
The Moog team designed, built and tested several components essential to the mission. During the final descent, Moog throttle valve assemblies controlled the entry spacecraft’s engines. The spacecraft entered the atmosphere at 12,500 miles per hour, then stabilized and lowered the Perseverance Rover until it successfully touched down in the Jezero Crater that afternoon.
Moog also played a role in launching the Rover to the Red Planet. The mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 30, 2020. Moog actuators steered the launch vehicle out of Earth’s atmosphere.
Additionally, Moog rocket engines were used to steer the spacecraft on the 350-million-mile, seven-month journey carrying the Perseverance Rover, ensuring it stayed on course while traveling 55,000 miles per hour.
The rover is still on Mars, and Moog technology continues to support it. Moog valves and filters help keep the Rover’s drill clean while digging for samples over the course of one Mars year, which is 687 Earth Days.
Village Extends Term Lengths
In February, the Village Board of East Aurora quickly discussed and then changed term lengths for trustees and the mayor from two years to four-year terms. It was not a unanimous decision. Trustee Marcia Kimmel-Hurt brought the resolution to the floor. She was joined by trustees Kristin Cameron, Steve Lazickas and Tony Rosati. Mayor Peter Mercurio and trustees Ernie Scheer and Paul Porter III voted against the change.
As was previously reported, Kimmel-Hurt said she had been thinking of the change soon after she was elected to the board in 2019, citing the difficulty in obtaining signatures to run for office and that it takes more than two years to learn the role of trustee.
Other officials, such as Scheer, said the two-year change offers the ability for the public to possibly vote people out on a faster timeline if there are problems and allows for a chance every two years for candidates to dedicate time talking to residents about various issues.
The matter was discussed for the first time in a virtual meeting when the public could not attend and with no prior public debate.
A month after the motion was passed, board members talked about how they would consider an actual public discussion on the matter to see if they made an appropriate decision and would do so in the near future. It has been almost 10 months but nothing has occurred. As of now, the change will take place for this March election.
State Legalizes Cannabis
In March, top elected officials of New York State agreed to a plan that legalized adult-use cannabis.
Local municipalities have been able to opt out of allowing adult-use cannabis retail dispensaries or on-site consumption licenses by passing a local law by December 31, 2021, nine months after the effective date of the legislation. They cannot opt out of adult-use legalization.
Marilla was the first municipality in Erie County to opt out in July. After a lengthy discussion and two votes, the town board moved to opt-out of allowing cannabis dispensaries to set up a business in town. During the first round of voting, Council Member Brian Nolan expressed concern in rushing to vote. He said he was against moving forward at this time, and he wanted to wait to see how other towns were responding. He felt like the board was “jumping the gun” in order to be first.
The Towns of Wales, Elma and Aurora followed Marilla’s footsteps in the months that followed, but the Village of East Aurora branched off and went in another direction. Initially, they voted to allow cannabis dispensaries and consumption lounges, but after several public hearings and dozens of comments from community members, they held a new vote and will only allow dispensaries.
The board voted 5-1 to allow dispensaries. Trustee Ernest Scheer voted to opt-out of this retail establishment.
With the lounges, the vote was 6-0 to opt-out of consumption lounges. Trustee Steven Lazickas was absent from the meeting.
“I feel there is still a lot we don’t know,” Mayor Peter Mercurio said about the lounges. His comments were echoed by other board members.
In October, the board held its public hearings on both retail sites and, after some public dialogue, voted to opt-in, meaning they would not block dispensaries that sell cannabis-related products or consumption sites similar to a bar, but with cannabis. During that time, Mercurio did vote against lounges, the only board member to do so. It was unanimous for dispensaries in October. The board said it would begin working on zoning measures to limit where those places could go.
Those against the dispensaries first and foremost felt that they would not be a good fit for the village, and also cited too many unknowns while the recently formed Office of Cannabis Management for New York State was still working on the details for licensing. Village residents opposed to the measure felt the Village Board should wait for clearer state guidelines before opting in.
Local Log Jam
This summer, over 400 feet of trees and branches collected in one spot along Cazenovia Creek, causing flood situations and leading to greater concerns that more could happen if not addressed.
The jam is one of the worst seen by Mark Gaston, a district field manager at the Erie County Soil & Water Conservation District in East Aurora. Looking back over the past 20 years, he said this one would rank in his top three of jamups.
The jam was located in a section of Cazenovia south of Blakeley Road, close to where Olean Road meets the southern end of Route 400. Gaston said the area is “susceptible” to log jams and has been the site of other similar backups over the years, with this one likely filling in the creek earlier in the summer when heavy rainstorms swept through the region. That storm flooded the north towns of Erie County, sparing most of the southern communities, yet all that rain grabbed loose trees and branches along the shoreline from farther south and carried them until a choke point was created, Gaston said.
A contractor was hired to come in with a grinder and remove all the debris. At the time of publication, the estimated cost for the contractor was $50,000. Gaston said that cost would be spread out between the water conservation district and the town of Aurora, while other agencies would assist in some fashion.
Erie County Celebrated Bicentennial
Erie County reached a milestone birthday in 2021 of being 200-years-old, and all of the local historical societies opened their doors to commemorate this bicentennial event.
Erie County was officially recognized by New York State on April 2, 1821.
A press release from the county said that after the American Revolution, the Holland Land Company purchased 3.2 million acres of land from the Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee, more commonly known as the Iroquois Confederacy. In 1808, New York organized the western-most land as Niagara County. By 1821, the population had increased so much that Niagara County was split. The land south of Tonawanda Creek, consisting of ten towns and the Buffalo Creek Reservation, was designated as Erie County.
Today, Erie County has 25 towns, three cities, two tribal territories and a population of approximately 920,000.
Once a heavily forested frontier, the region changed as the Erie Canal brought prosperity to the region and made the Niagara Frontier one of the largest shipping and rail centers in the country. Erie County is home to numerous inventors and inventions. The Ball Jar, BarcaLounger and air conditioning all originated in Buffalo. Wilson Greatbatch developed the implantable pacemaker in Clarence, and Bell Aircraft was one of the nation’s largest suppliers of aircraft during World War II. Erie County boasts many major works by both local and national architects, a list that includes Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson, E.B. Green, William Wick and Louise Bethune. Famous writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain and Lauren Belfer have all called the area home at one point during their careers. Erie County has also given the world Fisher-Price Toys and the chicken wing.
Erie County has ties to several U.S. Presidents. Millard Fillmore practiced law in East Aurora before serving as President. He returned to Erie County and helped establish the University of Buffalo, Buffalo General Hospital and the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. Grover Cleveland practiced law in Buffalo before becoming Erie County Sheriff, Mayor of Buffalo and Governor of New York. He married Buffalo’s Frances Folsom. In 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo and, on Sept. 14 of that year, Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the nation’s twenty-sixth president at the Wilcox Mansion on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.
Events for this milestone are scheduled to continue through April 2022.
Elma Resident Receives Honors
During its annual community awards day, the West Seneca Chamber of Commerce recognized Elma resident Renee Day as the 2021 Educator of the Year.
Day is a business and academy teacher at West Seneca West Senior High School. A graduate of Canisius College and Buffalo State College, Renee has taught in the education field for 27 years, including 22 years at West Seneca Central School District.
Day was nominated for this award by several colleagues. She serves as district coordinator for the business department, helping to create the vision and goals of the department and academies. She is also an advanced studies educator through SUNY Erie, enabling students in four classes to obtain college credits while still in high school. Additionally, Day has helped build relationships within the community which help provide internship and shadowing opportunities, as well as field trips, for Academy students.
Emery Park was Vandalized
The Erie County Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry reported an incident of vandalism that took place at Emery Park early in the week of June 28 and resulted in considerable damage to the park’s Ski Lodge and Field House, each of which was broken into after outside security doors were kicked in and forced open. In addition to the doors of each building being damaged beyond repair, vandals gathered up all of the fire extinguishers from the two buildings and discharged them in the Ski Lodge, causing further damage.
The doors on both facilities needed to be replaced and all fire extinguishers replaced.
Cleaning this up was estimated to cost $31,000.
Community Garden gets Fresh Start
In 2021, the Aurora Community Garden tilled up the soil for a fresh start following a period of dormancy.
Garden members began a campaign to have others join the community early in the year and rent out plots.The Aurora Community Garden is located off of South Street in East Aurora on land that borders Major’s Park. Gardening tools and wheelbarrows were on site for members to use, and rain barrels collected water so gardeners did not have to transport their own. There were approximately 25 plots available. Everyone who took part in 2021 has agreed to renew for next year, and some members are increasing their lot size.
The community garden has been around for nearly 50-years. It began in the early 1970s when a resident named Marion Bronson allowed other gardeners to grow on her property, and the group eventually referred to themselves as the Aurora Community Gardeners. Bronson passed away in 1989, but she willed this portion of her land to the Aurora Community Gardeners indefinitely, as long as the land is used as a community garden. If gardening were to discontinue, the land would be turned over to the Town of Aurora.
Answers on Train Derailment
Results of why a train derailment occurred in East Aurora last year were released and published in June after the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) report of its accident investigation was filed and posted online on its website.
The potentially disastrous train derailment was attributed to an error by a track maintenance crew. According to the report, a two-person “maintenance of way” crew set the stage for the May 18, 2020 derailment when they moved equipment that had been parked on an out-of-service track commonly known as the East Aurora Storage Track or Fisher-Price siding. Track workers re-aligned the switch, located at Oakwood Avenue, from the siding to the “main line” on May 7, 2020, after moving the equipment south, but placed a switch lock in the wrong position. This eventually allowed the switch mechanism to be tripped, and would later send the northbound freight train off the main line and through the siding. The first locomotive derailed and ran down an embankment on Riley Street near the former Pennsylvania Railroad Station.
The FRA noted that there was no evidence that the switch lock had been tampered with, but listed vandalism as a contributing cause due to The report also noted that subsequent inspections of the track between May 7 and May 18, 2020 did not reveal the improperly placed switch lock.
The FRA determined the “switch target” that indicated the train would run onto the siding instead of continuing north provided only about 30 seconds of warning to the train’s operating crew.
The accident occurred just before 11 p.m. last year. As has been reported, the train had two people on board, an engineer and an apprentice, and neither was injured. No injuries were reported on the ground, and there was no damage to neighboring buildings along the route. Over 40 homes were evacuated at the time of the incident as a precaution.
The report states that there were “three locomotives in the lead and 98 cars, with 32 loaded and 66 empty mixed within the consist. The train was 5,875 ft. long and weighed 6,089 tons.” There were 15 cars that derailed and no material was spilled from those cars.
About 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the lead locomotive. The total estimated damage to the train and track was listed as over $515,000.