Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Niagara River Greenway is a Rudderless Boat

The Niagara River Greenway is a rudderless boat

Author: Larry Beahan

Published Date: Jul 26, 2010 12:00 AM

The Niagara River Greenway is in danger of foundering in a cataract of well-meaning but disorganized and competing voices. The existence of a Greenway Commission sounds like someone is at the helm but the commission has no legal tools. It has no rudder.

More than 50 years ago, the New York Power Authority tapped the Niagara River to produce a bonanza of clean electric power. But the communities that contain the Niagara River have felt short-changed of its benefits. The Power Project, itself, mars the natural beauty of the gorge. The magnificent torrent of the falls is sapped of strength by water diversion. The chemical industries that it powers pollute the surroundings and tourists flock to the Canadian, not the American, falls.

Federal relicensing of the Power Project required reparations to these injured communities. The New York Power Authority and the state of New York arranged for the reparations to be delivered as $450 million over 50 years to fund a Niagara River Greenway. A Greenway Commission was appointed to develop a plan and make “recommendations” for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the Greenway.

An excellent plan was developed by the commission, but the implementation of the plan is faltering for lack of coordination. The actual money was awarded to four independent standing committees. They are required to ask only if the commission considers their spending proposals “consistent” with the Greenway Plan. But the Standing Committee may do whatever it wants after asking this advice.

I listened to Bob Kresse, the current Greenway Commission chairman, fume at a recent meeting. He watched a presentation by Wendel Duchscherer Architects on a plan for Greenway Signage funded by one of the standing committees. Many months ago the commission had found the proposal for the study “consistent” with the plan but had had no opportunity to influence this all-important matter of what the whole Greenway would look like, not even when signs were about to be painted.

I am Sierra Club representative to the Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition, which has a seat on the Ecological Standing Committee. We spent $100,000 to fund a project which inside of the year will provide a plan for the ecological restoration of the Niagara Gorge rim.

In light of this study, the commission tabled a decision on a proposal by Lewiston to build a dog park that will endanger a songbird habitat. Despite this lack of a finding of consistency and disregarding the $100,000 ecological plan, the “host community standing committee” immediately funded the dog park.

Somebody needs to coordinate the spending of this $450 million in a reasonable, consistent and agreed-upon way. The Greenway Commission must be given a rudder.

Larry Beahan is Sierra Club representative to the Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition.

© The Buffalo News

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