<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>

State Parks Avoids Impact Study On Landscape Improvement Plan

By James Hufnagel

The New York State Parks have plowed over the waterway between Goat Island and the innermost of the Three Sisters Islands, but somehow they do not consider this worthy of an environmental impact study. Very convenient.
Olmsted? The plan is to expand (yet again) the parking lots in the Niagara Falls State Park in order to bring in more money and capture more tourists. On busy days the park has to share parking with the city, something they hate to do. Expect to see future expansion of State Park parking lots.
A riverlet in the Niagara Falls State Park.

With its implementation of the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements Plan, the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation may be in direct violation of the federal Clean Water Act of 1972.

According to the Clean Water Act, a special ("Section 404") permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must be obtained when depositing construction fill into a waterway of the United States. More specifically, an Army Corps decree states that "the temporary discharge of fill material into waters of the United States in order to facilitate the construction of temporary access roads and/or staging areas at work sites..." is to be performed only in accordance with the issuance of these permits.

In addition, any deposit of earthen fill material affecting the bottom elevation of a waterway in the United States requires a 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

By constructing a stone and earthen dam blocking the branch of the Niagara River separating Goat Island from the innermost of the Three Sisters Islands, creating a temporary access road for construction vehicles pursuant to "landscape improvements," State Parks has done all of those things.
However, a search of recent permits on the Buffalo District website of the Army Corps of Engineers reveals no such permit has been applied by, or granted to, State Parks in association with this supposedly closely regulated activity.

Two weeks ago, an article in the Reporter revealed that State Parks had unilaterally granted itself a "negative declaration" under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), exempting itself from undergoing the rigorous review mandated for construction projects which have probable impacts on the environment.

Projects with potential environmental impacts across New York State are reported in the Environmental Notices Bulletin (ENB), a weekly publication of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the state agency charged with overseeing SEQRA processes and procedures.

We decided to survey some projects statewide, as listed in the ENB, that were determined to have significant environmental impacts under SEQRA thus warranting public hearings and release of an environmental impact statement, as compared to the obvious impacts that State Parks is perpetrating in Niagara Falls State Park which were detailed in our previous article.

For example, last week it was reported that the town of Oyster Bay on Long Island wants to build a nursing home. Public hearings and preparation of an EIS were announced. Also last week, Stony Point wanted to install machinery in existing buildings to produce electricity and ethanol. This seemingly straightforward activity requires SEQRA oversight. Closer to home, the town of Bolivar in Allegany County wished to build a Pre-Kindergarten, and they considered it prudent to submit to a full SEQRA review. The renovation of James Glynn's Maid of the Mist's Observation Tower years ago, which didn't much affect the surrounding environment, still underwent a full-scale SEQRA analysis.

Why is State Parks skirting these environmental laws, and why are the Army Corps and New York DEC letting them get away with it? Perhaps the answer lies in the following fact: the SEQRA process requires public hearings and official public comment periods. If you go on the internet and search "Niagara Falls Uproar YouTube," you can see a video clip of one of the last times State Parks interfaced with the public. Regional State Parks Director Mark Thomas addressed the crowd at Gov. Paterson's town hall meeting, and was lucky he wasn't tarred and feathered for his efforts.

The last thing State Parks wants are public hearings, giving local residents a chance to voice their frustrations at the shameful and arrogant way the agency has hijacked the eight million tourists who visit Niagara Falls State Park each year, where they park, dine, sightsee, purchase souvenirs, and then exit on a dedicated parkway without setting foot or spending a dime in the city.

This week we plan to send letters to the Corps and the DEC, lodging official complaints with regards to the suspect activities of the secretive and autocratic State Parks. We'll keep you posted.



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

Feb 19 , 2013