Law students help Southline neighbors in cell tower fight

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. – The determined group of neighbors from Southline who are fighting the construction of a cell phone tower near their backyards are getting help from students at the University at Buffalo Law School.

Student attorneys from the university’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic started assisting the group a few weeks ago when a Southline resident working at the school asked for their help.

“They’ve done great research so far, they’ve done so much work.  We’re helping them go back through it and pick it apart to help them get the result they want,” said student attorney Leah Bernhardi.

The students are helping the group navigate the bureaucracy of the town as they fight the construction proposal of a 135’ cell phone tower on the grounds of the Southline Athletic Association off North Seine Drive.

“Records and access to information and transparency have been an issue, so far even two weeks into this project.  Luckily they are an empowered group of people,” said Bernhardi.

Bernhardi said it’s like shooting in the dark when requesting information from the town using New York State’s Freedom of Information Law.

“I’m sure they feel stonewalled.  But, part of its bureaucracy and part of it, as the town attorney said, they can’t speak on something if they don’t have it in front of them.  If they don’t have a completed application –which makes complete sense – they can’t speculate on what they’re going to get.”

Adding to the ambiguity is an offer letter from the town to have the tower built on town property located on Losson Road.  The town board has said that they will attempt to reach out to a neighborhood representative if a new application is submitted to the town.

The students are performing their work pro bono in exchange for school credit and the experience.

“Upper level law students apply to a clinic, and if accepted are admitted to practice law under the supervision of a faculty member. Therefore, community organizations who otherwise would not have access to an attorney are represented by excellent students,” said Kim Diana Connolly, Director of Clinical Legal Education.

“This provides the students a chance to gain real practice experience while they are still enrolled in law school. It is a true win-win!”

Another major project the clinic has under taken is The Niagara River Corridor Project.  This project is supported by legal and policy work by the law students in the clinic together with the Niagara River Greenway Commission and the Niagara Corridor Ramsar Site Steering Committee.

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