Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Niagara Heritage Partnership Slams the Robert Moses Parkway Scoping Report

The NHP Evaluation of the Niagara Gorge Corridor Project, Robert Moses Parkway-North Segment, Scoping Report Presentation. NYSDOT PIN 5757.91 The Niagara Heritage Partnership (NHP) (www.niagaraheritage.org) found this scoping report to be biased in favor of options other than total removal in the following ways.

 The Project Objectives, as written, favor parkway retention. 1) benefits related to total removal, elsewhere thoroughly discussed by NHP and documented by the independent study conducted by EDR were ignored. 2) arguments against total parkway removal that were thoroughly debunked by the EDR study were incorporated as "objectives " that can only be "met" by parkway retention. 3) goals and benefits of total removal proponents were incorporated as vague "catch phrases" to imply that treatments other than total removal could also provide them.

 Some amplification of the above: 1) the potential for ecotourism as outlined by NHP, the increased Homeland Security, the potential for power plant-greenhouse--all detailed elsewhere and which we'll forward by snail mail tomorrow or hand deliver--were not acknowledged. 2) the EDR traffic study concluded alternative routes could easily handle parkway traffic with the parkway totally removed; yet a "Goal" of the project remains "Promote vehicle traffic patterns that minimize traffic patterns in residential areas." Translation: keep the "detour" function of the parkway. 3) "Promote ecotourism..." This has been a central feature of total removal and it has been repeatedly explained why attempting to attract ecotourists to hike, walk, and bicycle alongside a two-lane commuter route is a non-sell proposition: yet there that phrase is, as if merely printing those words make it feasible in the world of reality.

 Nowhere in the Project Objectives do we find: to eliminate road maintenance costs for the future; to eliminate the direct, on-site contamination of the Corridor that occurs as a function of road use and maintenance (salt spreading, vehicle carbon emissions, the latter just under 232,000 tons annually by OPRHP's own calculations); to increase as much as possible the numbers of acres of wildlife habitat acres to the Corridor, which is already recognized as a Globally Significant Important Bird Area; to reduce threats to Homeland Security; to create the potential for a world-unique greenhouse with both practical, economic, and tourist-attracting capabilities (in spite of the Report's inexplicable depiction of the power plant on the front cover as if it's a contribution to the Greenway); to begin the restoration and future-creation and preservation of an historical old-growth forest; to eliminate (not "reduce") the dysfunctional detour function of the parkway, and so on.

 It's clear that an honest assessment of the realities and potentials associated with the North Corridor Project is likely to have resulted in a quite different set of conclusions. Further, when the estimated cost of total removal provided by EDR is 3.8 million, the Scoping estimate of 33 million is nothing short of preposterous. The difference of some 28 million can be found in projects such as the "Expansion of Discovery Center and Aquarium footprint," and in "new shared park road entrance to....Maid of the Mist facility." While these may be desirable projects, they have zero to do with removal, and it is dishonest to indulge in this kind of accounting. Even with this obvious slight-of-hand number juggling, the difference between total removal (the lowest estimate in spite of padding) and the much-touted Alternative 3 (by local politicians) remains 19 million. Advantage: total removal.

 Of course the facts and other complexities obscured by the accounting numbers noted above beg further discussion, but we've done that previously and it's been ignored. Rather than repeat, we'll forward other relevant documents with this response: a letter to Assemblyman Ceretto; a recent Guest View (9 March 2013); a sampling of the online petition; the statement "The NHP Position re: RMP/Niagara Gorge Corridor Project: Meeting No. 4 for Representatives of Organized Groups" (27 Oct. 2012); and documentation that no road (a retained parkway) ever pays for itself, is invariably a drain on future economies, facts with which the DOT and others are no doubt very familiar.

 It's worth noting, however, that the Scoping Report's failure to take into account the 4,000 + individuals who've voted for total removal (plus the 80 organizations who also support total removal) is a serious oversight, indeed. We ask that their voices be counted, so that no future report can say, as this one does, that the Phase One {removal to Findlay} is supported "by the public." These voices are a genuine expression of what potential visitors want to see along the gorge rim--a park without a commuter road. The "public" of the Scoping Report is not comprised of those who've responded to the Niagara Heritage Partnership's proposal for total removal over the last 16 years.

As we may have pointed out previously, the list of organizations and about half of the individual names (the other half we have on hard copy) are available for viewing at: www.niagaraheritage.org That the MOU partners endorse Phase One is no surprise--they are all entities who share conflicts of interest regarding this issue. ( The MOU was entered into prior to the Niagara River Greenway becoming a reality, so it may be bound to strictures other than that new, over-arching vision.)

That the Scoping Report concludes removal to Findlay ends at a "logical termini" and has an "independent utility" (whatever that means) is a conclusion with which NHP takes issue--we believe that Phase One should be total removal to the City Line at Devil's Hole, which is our "logical termini." What's more logical than a termini that terminates at the City's boundary? It's an additional mile of parkway removal that would permit much of the natural restoration upon which developing an ecotourism market depends; it is the portion of the gorge rim most ecologically valuable, the portion EDR recognized as the most significant, and that which they recommended be first scheduled for parkway removal and natural restoration.

Perhaps that was a moderate view; NHP believes that mile should be added to Phase One. Relevant to this additional mile, under Project Objectives, Improve Access and Transportation, "C" is "Link Parks, communities, and attractions adjoining the NGC." Having "link parks" as an objective is clearly a goal requiring parkway retention, but it is also very close to being silly when two facts are known: 1) three State Parks are currently "linked" by that first mile of parkway north of Findlay (only two of which are accessible from it), and 2) no State Park, community, or "attraction" to which vehicle access is currently available would be denied vehicle accessibility if that additional mile of parkway were totally removed--and the same could be said of the entire length of the parkway should that be totally removed. The objective itself, therefore, is of questionable value, unless we imagine alternative routes do not exist.

The entire "Improve Access and Transportation" category is feeble when examined closely, stating the obvious (remove cones) and "remove barriers that impede access" (a given), though we suppose it had to be said. It is the NHP position that the "transportation" here is of little value and should be discarded as an objective when the road providing the "transportation" degrades the landscape, and the potentially restored landscapes, though which it runs.

 Sincerely, Bob Baxter
Conservation Chair
Niagara Heritage Partnership
19 March 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Will Officials Ignore The Robert Moses Parkway Study?

Dear Editor,

I agree with almost everything Joe Grabka said in in his recent letter. He's only unaware of a few things--such as the degree to which the Niagara Heritage Partnership believes total gorge parkway removal would improve the business climate of Main Street, for example. As such, he's still light years ahead of Assemblyman Ceretto and Senator Maziarz, who haven't, in 16 years, given the NHP proposal genuine consideration.

NHP does say that removing the parkway detour around the City would help businesses in Niagara Falls. We never said, however, that removal would create instant economic prosperity for Main Street, or anywhere else, but that it would be part of the solution to reviving business districts. Yes, much else needs to be done, as Grabka points out. But who can deny that removal would help, under present conditions? I don't remember a time since the power project (and the parkway) was completed, and all the workers left town, that all the business districts in Niagara Falls were "booming," as Grabka does. But maybe he's right about that.

Even if he is, we should still consider the major reasons, supported by evidence shown by the EDR study, that total removal is advisable. This study, titled "Regional Economic Growth Through Ecological Restoration of the Niagara Gorge Rim," the only actual study ever done of this issue, cost $140,000. The Niagara River Greenway Commission funded $115,00 of that, and $25,000 came from the City of Niagara Falls. (Sen. Maziarz spoke against the funding being granted, and even today remains confused about what constitutes a real study.) Note: Paul Dyster--but not as "Mayor"--and family members, have signed the NHP petition for total removal. As a common-sense person he knows the parkway should be totally gone; as Mayor, he hedges his bets--he'll take what he can get.

The EDR study concluded that the gorge parkway should be totally removed; that traffic on alternate routes would pose no problem; that it was affordable at 3.8 million; that removal would save millions in both the short and long term; that it had the potential to reap economic benefits for the region--and that the gorge rim between Findlay and the City Line (exactly the section those opposed to removal are so desperate to keep), was so valuable environmentally that it should be the first section of the road removed, and then the rim restored with natural landscapes.

And now everyone, Ceretto, Dyster, and to some degree, Maziarz, et al, including State Parks, seem content to pretend the EDR study never took place. They didn't like the conclusions. Never mind facts and evidence: they know what they believe, they know what they want. The results of the State Park "scoping" of the issue reflects this bias.

Several weeks ago I sent Assemblyman Ceretto a letter asking him to reconsider his position and support total removal. I mapped out a rationale and sources where he could find out more about the details. But he didn't give me the courtesy of a reply.
If you'd like to see that letter, email me at erbaxter@aol.com and I'll send you a copy.

And now Joe Grabka says if I want to hug a tree I should start on Goat island, get some planted there instead of the concrete parking lots. He asks if that would be too much trouble for me. Well, it hasn't been too much trouble so far, and I do want to hug a tree, many of them, in fact, and I have been advocating good stewardship for Goat Island for over 25 years, most recently in a guest view titled, "Ecotourism Best Way to Extend Tourism for Niagara." That was May, 2012, and can be found at www.niagaraheritage.org under Recent Postings, the 4th item on the list. It's one of a half dozen or so sources I sent to Ceretto, btw.

In the end, Mark Thomas of the OPRHP and the rest of the politicians will do what they want, regardless of a mountain of contrary evidence pointing to a different course of action. It's difficult to believe that this local State Parks administration isn't taking its marching orders from Albany--and if it isn't, it should be, given the significance of the issue. It's possible we'd get a clearer view from afar, from where the situation might be less likely to be examined through the lens of local political considerations. In any event, we know at whose feet the final responsibility for wrong action here is to be placed.

Senator Maziarz can go on with his public endorsement of "Option 3" (keeping the parkway on the best part of the gorge rim); he can go on trotting out Wallenda; he can continue to say "restoration of native landscapes in several areas" to journalists for quotation as if he believes those words stand for something worthwhile, rather than what they will translate to in reality: the spotty planting of a few native trees and shrubs along a two-lane road; he can go on disparaging the EDR study without naming it, revealing his confusion about it and other earlier "plans" and schemes; he can go on noting that Option 3 got the "highest rating from public response forms received to date," while ignoring the 4000+ signatures of those endorsing total removal (essentially votes for # 6) and the 80 organizations who also support total removal. These are, at the very least, tens of thousands of people who value the natural world telling us what they want to see here.

That he even thinks that this issue should be largely resolved by local comment is revealing; we are not discussing the proposed enlargement of a Walmart parking lot here, where only those "in the neighborhood" get to have a say--we are trying to determine how to remedy the desecration of a world-renowned landscape by a redundant highway, how this geological feature unique in North America, carved out by the retreat of the last ice age, can be best preserved and ecologically restored for future generations.

So Maziarz and the rest of guys should stop trying to sell us this version of "keep the parkway." They know it's bogus. Maziarz should stop telling the tale of his going "door-to-door in the city of Niagara Falls, particularly in the DeVeaux neighborhood," listening to thoroughly debunked complaints about "air quality issues" and traffic jams on Lewiston Road; both Dick Soluri and Maziarz should stop repeating the parkway is crucial for Lewiston's survival when there's absolutely no evidence in support of that, zero. Mark Thomas should stop behaving as if providing "transportation," ie, keeping the parkway, has suddenly become the most important part of the State Parks mission; he should stop rhapsodizing about the land added to State Park holdings south of Findlay while ignoring the damage caused by the parkway north of it, while he also ignores the fact that the Niagara River Corridor has been designated a Globally Significant Important Bird Area. (Will tour busses be driving on that "multimodal" gorge rim trail, incidentally?)

Paul Dyster should stop asking that people be "willing to postpone their disagreements with what happens north of Findlay into the next phase of the discussion." When he's willing to successfully work to re-visit Phase One so that it totally removes the parkway from downtown to the City Line at Devil's Hole, I'll postpone my disagreements. Christopher Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara Development, should stop the magical thinking that makes him talk about the three options as if they're compatible, while simultaneously extolling the virtues of north south "connectivity" to Lewiston and Youngstown.

These guys are starting to remind me of Colin Powell, displaying sketches of fictional mobile bio-weapons and holding up vials of talcum powder, a show-and-tell based on, they claimed later, bad intelligence. As it turned out, it was no intelligence at all, just fantasy, lies. But they sold it. We're not buying it this time. We may have it forced on us, anyway, but we still prefer the elegant vision of total removal and the benefits it could provide along the gorge rim and throughout the region.

We can imagine long-grass, flowering meadows, song birds and butterflies, hiking and bicycling trails winding through stands of young trees, maturing over time to become the old-growth forests of the future. At gorge bottom, the river will continue to flow. We'll all be long gone by then, of course. But through this environment over the years are the families--having picnics, hiking, riding bicycles, young children playing, becoming young adults, the couples, the solitary walkers, the middle-aged, the elderly, those in wheelchairs, their lives enriched by the natural landscapes they can enter. For many of us, this would be our little ribbon of wilderness close to home, one we could afford. This should be our legacy.

Bob Baxter
Conservation Chair
Niagara Heritage Partnership