GRAND ISLAND, NY (WKBW) — “This is too important of a project for this community to turn its back on,” declared Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive.
The county executive says this region can not afford to lose the multi-million dollar Amazon mega project. Poloncarz finally spoke publicly Friday about what was once a secret proposal dubbed "project olive".
Amazon proposed building a massive, more than $300-million warehouse and distribution center on Grand Island near the I-190.
But it was paused earlier this week when the planning board rejected the zoning, however the town board has the final say and that's keeping hopes alive for this project.
“If we turn our back on this project that's basically sending a message to a lot of these other mega projects that do exist out here — don't come to Erie County — don't come to Western New York — and I don't think that's a message we can send,” Poloncarz remarked.
Right outside the county executive's news conference at the Rath Building in downtown Buffalo Friday afternoon a small group of grand island protesters chanted against the project.
“Amazon warehouse on Grand Island — No!”, shouted protesters.
Cathy Rayhill is leading the Coalition for Responsible Economic Development in Grand Island.
“This project does not fit the Island and its environment,” Rayhill stated.
Rayhill says Grand Island residents don't want the mega distribution center. “There are much more appropriate sites — more brownfield sites and closer to population that are absolutely in need of that employment in the Buffalo area,” Rayhill explained.
“But it meets the zoning requirement. It’s not like it's being put against somebody's back yard,” said Poloncarz.
The planning board rejected the zoning only based on height. A crane was set up along long road site by the co-owner of the property. It stands 87-feet high to show the height of the proposed five story facility. But Rayhill says that would be placed on top of another 15-feet of fill.
“The height of what that crane is right now is not even representative of the ultimate height that people will see of that building,” Rayhill noted.
Rayhill says the project is just too big.
“We’re talking about a warehouse where every single resident in Erie County could stand inside of it with four feet between them,” Rayhill said.
Poloncarz noted Grand Island was not the first choice for this project. The county executive was hoping Amazon selected the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna. But that site would need environmental clean up.
The Grand Island site does not require clean up.
Poloncarz also pointed out this proposed project is not the same Amazon locations in Lancaster and Tonawanda. He said this would be the largest construction project this region has ever seen.
“It’s a project of regional significance,” Poloncarz said.
It’s the grandness of the project that would be big economic boost for the area, creating 1,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $31-million.
“At a time when there are thousands and thousands of people who have lost jobs with employers who are not returning is not something we can afford to lose,” Poloncarz stated.
The county executive said Amazon would also create spin-off jobs.
“From the people who would clean the facility all the way down to — if you think about it in the winter — the individuals who would snow plow the parking lots. These are the types of things that we need to show the rest of the country — we are in the ballgame,” exclaimed Poloncarz.
Rayhill said she is not against economic development and job growth and actually agrees with the county executive that the project should come into the county, but not in her town.
“I would love to see this in Erie County, but not on Grand Island.”
Rayhill said residents are not giving up their fight and will keep voicing their opposition.
“We’ve already gotten over a thousand petition signatures to basically deny the zoning request,” said Rayhill. “We will continue — until we have thousands more.”
The the town board meets again in early August.