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By Mike Hudson

It was the disappearance recently of more than a ton of fieldstone from a Buffalo Avenue pocket park that had the town talking. Now, more than 100 truckloads of asphalt milling--generated by the city's street resurfacing program--have gone missing, and a streets department foreman has been given a 30-day suspension for improperly handling the valuable commodity.

The milling is created when city crews remove the top few inches of asphalt from a roadway in order to prepare for resurfacing. Traditionally, this material was taken to the city's maintenance yard, where it was used on municipal parking lots and unimproved alleyways, or sold to local individuals or companies. Recently, the city has even looked into the possibility of "recharging" the asphalt and using it to patch potholes.

Typically, asphalt milling sells for around $100 a truckload.

This year, however, between 100 and 120 truckloads of the valuable material ended up in the parking lots of the National Vacuum Corp. at 47th Street and Royal Avenue, and IDS Lakes Pipe Supply Corp., located at the intersection of Hyde Park Boulevard and College Avenue.

The city received no remuneration for the material, which may have been worth as much as $12,000, sources agreed.

Willie Santiago, a streets department foreman, reportedly entered into an agreement with Cerrone Contracting of Niagara Falls to haul the milling away. Santiago told his superiors he believed he was saving the city money, since Cerrone did not charge for the removal of the material.

"He (Santiago) said this kind of thing has been going on for years," a top Public Works Department source told the Reporter. "I can tell you that it most definitely has not."

"Why would you give something away that you could sell?" the source continued. "If he didn't get any money for this, he's a bigger fool than I think he is."

Despite the fact that thousands of dollars worth of city property was improperly disposed of, officials of Mayor Irene Elia's administration chose not to launch a criminal investigation, instead quietly handling the matter by giving Santiago a 30-day departmental suspension.

Councilwoman Barbara Geracitano said she plans to ask both the Niagara Falls Police Department and the Niagara County District Attorney's office to launch investigations into the matter.

"They've got a major investigation of (County Democratic Chairman) Nick Forster for making $19 worth of phone calls," she told the Reporter. "Here we're talking about thousands and thousands of dollars."

Geracitano said she would ask her colleagues on the council to join her in calling for the investigations.

"We need both an internal and an external investigation on this," she said. "People have been talking about this for weeks, and the impression is that something's been covered up."