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State Parks, DOT hold Public Hearing at City Hall, One Citizen Shows Up

By James Hufnagel

Seasoned bureaucrats of agencies like the New York State Department of Transportation and State Parks know all the tricks when it comes to subverting the public will, running interference for influential politicians and the fat cat campaign contributors who own them. One of their favorites is to gather "public comments" at a "scoping hearing" to be considered when formulating a "master plan".

For example, "Public blasts Robert Moses Parkway Proposals for Redesign Project" as headlined in the April 28, 2009 issue of the Niagara Gazette.

According to the article, "New York State Park officials presented three different scenarios Tuesday to modify the south portion of the Robert Moses Parkway... However, most of the 100 plus people listening were still demanding a fourth option - removing the roadway entirely and allowing the city to reconnect with the waterfront."

The hearing at the Niagara Falls Conference Center was actually the second on the disposition of the south Moses parkway. A session had previously been held at the Lehman Visitors Center at which numerous citizens called for removal of the highway and development of the waterfront of the Niagara River. So as people filed into the Conference Center a year later under the naive assumption that State Parks had carefully considered public comments reflecting the will of the people, and began to view the various designs and displays all detailing an upgrade of the deleterious roadway, a steady undercurrent of incredulousness and outrage began to foment and spill over at the microphone.

"'The whole world seems to understand the uniqueness of this area except for the state of New York and the state parks,' yelled out Lisa Vitello, (representing) the Niagara Falls Tourism Advisory Board and a vocal supporter of removing both the south and north Moses Parkway sections... Ruth Knepp, who has lived in the city for 56 years, told park officials they should be ashamed of themselves. 'This is supposed to be a vibrant city and it was once a vibrant city,' she said. 'It's a disgrace what you've done.' The state park (sic) refuses to acknowledge the community's plea of removing the parkway (this writer stated). 'You are not listening to us... You do what benefits Albany, you do what benefits downstate and you do what benefits your corporate masters.'"

Four years later, the plan is to move forward with a rebuilt south Moses Parkway, the overwhelming public opposition to it as expressed at the Conference Center hearing having been waited out by the state until it was a faded memory.

In case you were attending the concert at Artpark last Tuesday night, or your kid's ballgame or a cook-out in the backyard, or gone boating or otherwise engaged in myriad summertime activities, you have a good excuse for not showing up at 5 pm at city hall for an official hearing - complete with recorded public comments committed to transcript - conducted by State Parks and the DOT on renovation of Olmsted-inspired bridges in the Niagara Falls State Park.

Clearly, when it comes to public hearings on parkways and the park, Western Region State Parks director Mark Thomas has learned his lessons well. He didn't want a repeat of the south Parkway meltdown at the Conference Center. And he sure didn't want a replay of the Gov. Paterson town hall meeting in Niagara Falls where he was shouted down by angry citizens, which you can watch by searching "Niagara Falls uproar" on Youtube.

Lesson number one is: avoid them. That's why the last public meeting concerning Niagara Falls State Park, the draft EIS hearing for the Observation Tower, was way back in 1999. Second, if you're going to dip your toe back into hostile public waters, do it during the dinner hour in the middle of the dog days of August, and don't send notices of the hearing to either the Niagara Gazette or Buffalo News. As it turned out, Niagara Falls writer and historian Paul Gromosiak was the only individual to show up, to be fawned over by no fewer than three State Parks officials, including Thomas and Angela Berti, and five DOT staffers.

"I told them I was both honored and taken aback," Gromosiak told me on the phone, "and that attendance may have been improved had they publicized the meeting as something to do with the Buffalo Bills. They are talking about totally replacing the Olmsted bridges instead of fixing them... the bridges are an important part of the history of the Reserve. Would you tear down the Eiffel Tower?"



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

AUG 20, 2013