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Reist Mill at Amherst State Park

Mill ruins in village leave town with problems

Buffalo News September 9, 2008  by Sandra Tan

    The charred remains of the historic Reist Street Mill in Williamsville are more than a sad reminder of lost history.

    They are also a major liability for the Town of Amherst that will cost big bucks to clean up.

    "We have a site that's really very unsafe, currently, as it sits, and we need to do something," James Zymanek, the town's disaster coordinator, said at Monday's Town Board work session.

    The 187-year-old grist mill -- one of the town's oldest buildings -- went up in flames July 21. Williamsville resident Spencer J. MacPherson, 20, of Cadman Drive, was arrested and charged with arson last month in connection with the fire.

    The landmark mill, also known as the "Red Barn" and "Red Mill," once belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis. It was most recently owned by the state, though the town was responsible for maintaining the building and surrounding park property.

    Preservation and conservation advocates criticized the town for not doing enough to protect the building and have said they hope to see at least some of what remains preserved.

    Zymanek, however, said there is little left that can be salvaged. The greater the desire for the Town Board and the Amherst Historic Preservation Commission to save the structure's foundation or other items, the more money the town will need to spend.

    He added that it will cost the town roughly $6,800 just to haul away the 120 to 150 cubic yards of debris. No grant or insurance money is available to help offset the cleanup expense.

    "There's money that's going to have to be expended one way or another to get this done," he said.

    Zymanek said he is already fielding complaint calls from nearby residents who are concerned that the pile of fire-damaged debris will serve as a winter haven for rodents and other pests.

    Liability issues also remain an ongoing concern, said Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones.

    Council Members Mark Manna and Barry Weinstein asked whether MacPherson, if convicted, could be held financially responsible for any cleanup costs. Jones said a judge could order the culprit to make restitution, but that doesn't mean he will pay up.

    Town administrators sought some direction Monday on the board's preservation philosophy regarding the ruins and the amount the town is willing to commit to cleanup efforts.

    But board members said they would prefer administrators return with concrete recommendations for the Reist mill site so the board can determine what level of financial commitment is warranted.

        Jones also urged that Zymanek and other department representatives meet with the Historic Preservation Commission before putting together any site safety plan since the commission must approve any cleanup effort the town adopts.

    Zymanek said he would meet with the commission tonight for its regular meeting.

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