City gets slap on the wrist for Headline-making Sewage Disaster 

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New York State will fine the Niagara Falls Water Board a measly $50,000 for discharging thousands of gallons of black, fetid and stinking water near the falls during a busy tourist weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

The agency will be required to make changes at its aging wastewater plant and obtain state approval before any future discharges, according to the governor.

In reality, the Water Board received a slap on the wrist for one of the worst environmental disasters in Niagara Falls since Love Canal. Most readers of this paper are well aware of the lovey-dovey relationship between Mr. Cuomo and Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, and many think that, were it not for that relationship, a criminal investigation would be underway here.

The July 29 discharge caused black water to empty into the Niagara River near the American side of the falls on a summer weekend critical to the local tourism industry. The foul-smelling discharge enveloped the dock of the popular Maid of the Mist tour boats. Some witnesses said they thought it was an oil spill.

“We have to make sure it never ever happens again,” the governor said during a visit Thursday to Niagara Falls. He said the state determined the discharge was the result of “basic breaches of protocol” at the plant.

A message left with Water Board Executive Director Rolfe Porter was not immediately returned. Local Water Board officials have blamed outdated equipment and miscommunication between employees for the incident. The board also has been cited for an separate illegal discharge in August.

The Water Board issued a statement Thursday saying that while it had not yet seen details of the administration’s requirements, it would work with state officials to prevent problems going forward.

“We have always been and remain committed to doing everything possible with the technology in place to safeguard the natural beauty of the Niagara River and to comply with and exceed wherever possible all environmental rules, standards and permits,” the unsigned statement from the board said.

The equipment is indeed outdated. That’s why fish swimming in the Niagara are addicted to drugs like Prozac, Zoloft and other antidepressants. That’s why many residential blocks in the Buffalo Avenue neighborhood where the wastewater treatment plant is located smell like an outhouse in the summer.

But Mr. Cuomo dismissed claims that the discharge was caused by technological issues, likening the plant to an old car that’s in a crash.

“It’s not the age of the car — you drove it into a tree,” he said. “That’s the problem. You drove the car into a tree. Let’s discuss that first.”

There’s nothing to discuss, Andrew. The dismal record of the Dyster administration when it comes to the environment, the economy, unemployment and poverty and record levels of crime is simply inexcusable. And that’s why thousands have voted with their feet and fled the polluted, down-and-out town.

Since Dyster was elected, between 8,000 and 10,000 city residents have left, often simply abandoning their homes in a city nobody wants to live in.

Here’s an idea. Instead of gifting his campaign contributors at Delaware North with $75 million to build a waterpark and hotel here, why not just use that money to upgrade the sewer plant?

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