|Even though he's lived in Niagara Falls for more than 60 years, Mayor Paul Dyster apparently forget that it gets cold here in the winter. He paved over a water main on 72nd Street, leaving it well within the freeze zone and it froze, leaving 186 taxpaying homeowners without running water. An encore freeze earlier this year left him up to his neck in hot water.
Now he’s got a plan.
After two winters with no running water suffered by 72nd Street residents after a city street resurfacing project left uninsulated pipes buried too close to the surface to prevent them from freezing during the harsh Niagara Falls winters, and with just weeks to go before the primary election, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster has a plan.
“I made myself available to work with the water board to come up with a solution,” said Dyster. “That didn’t happen as quickly as we would have liked, so now the time has come to take the lead and execute a capital project.”
He was lying, of course. And it was his leadership that caused the mess in the first place.
The contractor on the 72nd Street repaving project of 72nd Street, Paul Marinaccio of Accadia Site Contracting, told city officials in 2010 that the pipes were too close to the surface and would freeze. Since the excavation was still open, he could fix the problem for $300,000, he said, noting that it would be far more expensive to seal the pipes back up, pave over them, and then have to dig it all up again.
Engineers working for the city went out and took a look at it, and agreed with Marinaccio’s assessment. They sent a recommendation to the city’s water board to have the work done.
Water board members balked. It was a city repaving project, and therefore the city’s fault that the pipes were disturbed. Previously, there had never been a problem with freezing pipes. In effect, they adopted a, “You break it, you bought it,” stance.
After minimal back and forth about who was responsible for the situation, the city ordered Marinaccio to fill in the excavation and pave over it.
The winters of 2010-2013 were relatively mild in Niagara Falls, and it wasn’t until an arctic blast hit the city in February 2014 that Marinaccio’s prediction come to pass. One hundred and eight six homes were left without running water for weeks.
Make no mistake. Dyster and members of the water board all knew exactly why the pipes had frozen. They had been warned more than three years earlier and engineers working for the city had already said the pipes, buried just 18 inches beneath the pavement, were too shallow to prevent freezing.
Dyster called for a study.
“Having water lines freeze during a cold winter is not at all an unusual situation," Dyster said at the time. "There were about six theories about what may have happened and it would be premature to discuss the possibilities."
Anthony Mallone, who had been the project engineer for Accadia on the repaving project, told the Niagara Falls Reporter in an exclusive interview that the cause of the problem was as plain as the red nose on Dyster’s face.
"You need to redo the water line, re-cut the road (and) install a new water line, and excavate it down to a depth below the freeze line," he said.
But Dyster was eager to throw thousands of dollars at the Buffalo Engineering Consulting firm of Clark Patterson Lee, which turned in a report on the situation in April 2014. The report, which essentially concurred with what Marinaccio, Mallone and the city’s own engineers had said in the first place, was placed in Dyster’s desk drawer. He never even acknowledged he’s received it. He hoped the whole situation would just go away.
"We reviewed plans dated 2010 and spoke with members of the (city) Engineering Department to obtain information regarding this full depth roadway reconstruction project,” the report stated. "We discovered that the frozen services on 72nd Street were located in areas where the water facilities are above normal recommended installation depths within recently reconstructed areas. In addition we were told that the Engineering Department coordinated with the Niagara Falls Water Board, who was aware of the water main depths in this area; In particular, we learned that the Niagara Falls Water Board opted against the Engineering Department's recommendation to replace the existing water facilities at recommended depths where road reconstruction would occur…”
But Dyster clearly had bigger fish to fry, after all. The moribund Hamister hotel project was going to save the city. And then the Wonderfalls project was going to save the city. He was building a new train station and a statue of Harriet Tubman that was going to save the city and he was paying exorbitant sums to the Hard Rock Café to stage rock concerts by C-list acts that he could act as MC and have a good time at.
The weather warmed up, and Dyster turned his attention to a canoe launch at the Hyde Park Pond, a kayak launch at Griffon Park and cosmetic improvements to the 53rd Street fishing dock.
The Clark Patterson Lee report languished in the mayor’s desk for eight months, until December 2014, when a journalist working for a local television station asked to see it.
Dyster acted as though he’d just received it, lying again and saying he wanted to give it to the water board first, before he released it publicly.
In February 2015, the water main froze again. Residents once again found themselves without running water, and it wasn’t until February 26 that the Water Board received a copy of the Clark Patterson Lee report. They got it from a reporter from the Buffalo News, which had obtained it under a Freedom of Information Law request.
The water lines remained frozen until April and he commissioned yet another study. As recently as three weeks ago, he said he didn’t think the problem could be addressed this year. He would search for grant funding while the second study was being completed, he said.
Last week, with barely three weeks to go before the primary, Dyster did an about face. He suddenly discovered he could use money that had been earmarked for another paving project, he said.
“Complex issues without apparent solutions are the responsibility of the mayor, regardless of jurisdictions,” he said. “We collected information, set forth a plan of action and will execute a solution during this construction season. The political response would have been a winter of finger pointing. Instead, we are focused on resolving this problem on behalf of our residents.”
Backed into a corner with no way out, Dyster finally seems to be doing the right thing.
What took him so long?