Orchard Park, NY - A popular short-cut into Ralph Wilson Stadium has been blocked off by the team to fan access. That shortcut took those parked off California Road over a creek near the stadium.
The satellite parking lot behind the Wings Flights of Hope Center on California Road was all set for another crowd of Bills fans on Friday. Despite the official no trespassing signs on this county owned land, many of them felt it was a convenient way to access the stadium.
The shortcut trail runs to a bridge crossing Smoke's Creek and then up some stairs to the stadium parking lot. But now there's a new chain link fence blocking that access. And Joe DeMarco who has owned the wings complex since 2005 says he's puzzled.
DeMarco says "The county had came through last year...last year's season before the season opener and said you know we're thinking about blocking this off. But we don't really want do that because it's a safe access. We do not want put people on the road with no sidewalks. People are gonna be getting hit."
He is specifically speaking of California Road which does intersect with Southwestern Boulevard where the stadium complex is located. DeMarco points out there are no sidewalks on California Road and it is not lit with streetlights at night.
Erie County officials, who would not go on camera, say they do lease the land to the Bills and the team has the right to erect the fence. A contractor started putting it up earlier this week right at the edge of the Bill's parking lot just to the east of the stadium.
County officials said they are specifically concerned about the safety of the bridge which crosses the creek and its compliance with laws on wheelchair access for the disabled.
We specifically asked about the case of David Gerken. He is the suburban Rochester man who was found dead after falling in that ravine near the stadium last November following a Bills home game. His family has filed a notice of claim with the county for a possible lawsuit. But county officials say their concerns about the bridge or the fence construction have nothing to do with the Gerken case.
DeMarco says the blocked access will affect his parking lot business and proceeds for the Wings...Flights of Hope Charity which takes critically ill patients and family members on flights to hospitals around the country for medical care.
The Bills later released a statement. "We are constantly reviewing our game day policies and procedures and out gaol is to enhance our fans' game day experience with the safety of our fans being our number one priority. One change that we have made this year relates to a private parking area on California Road.
The operators of this parking lot have developed a makeshift pathway with a bridge over Smokes Creek and steps that lead to the stadium parking lot. These elements have been constructed without obtaining any appropriate permits on lands owned by Erie County and leased to the Buffalo Bills. The bridge, steps, and trail do not comply with applicable codes, including those set forth by the ADA, and represent an illegal, unsafe, and hazardous walkway to the stadium. Accordingly, we are taking appropriate steps to remove them. We have constructed a fence on the east side of the parking lot at Ralph Wilson Stadium so there will be no direct access from this California Road lot to the stadium parking lot.
We are appreciative of the efforts of owners of satellite parking lots surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium. These lot operators provide alternative parking options to our fans. However, all parking lot operators should be concerned about the safety and well-being of their patrons. We believe the users of the California Road lots are subject to unnecessary perils."
DeMarco says the bridge, trail, and steps were built before he bought the property and that he has offered help with insurance, security, and an engineer to assess the structural integrity of the pedestrian bridge. He says legal discussions with the county and the team will go on.
The Erie County Sheriff's Office and Orchard Park Police say they will monitor the pedestrian volume on California Road and adjust patrol patterns if necessary.