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Will Rattlesnakes Bite at Controversial Glynn Project Endangered species spotted, but lack of environmental checks fast tracked Glynn deal

By Jim Hufnagel

Are there Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes near the new dock site for the Maid of the Mist?

Work goes on uninterrupted, while endangered rattlesnakes may be nesting nearby....

With a sweep of his hand, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the National Register status of the Schoellkopf Power Station site go away overnight to make room for James Glynn's Maid of the Mist boatyard.

Whatever your opinion of the value of the historic remains at the bottom of the Niagara Gorge, the fact remains Cuomo skirted all public process related to a national heritage designation in his desire to satisfy Glynn's needs. And in their headlong rush to complete the massive project, with its considerable impact on the diverse habitats and viewscape of the gorge, Cuomo, State Parks and NYPA arrogantly ignored state SEQRA laws requiring public comment periods, hearings and an environmental impact statement before revving up the bulldozers, cranes and dump trucks.

If all the bad publicity accompanying Cuomo and Glynn's trashing of the landmark Schoellkopf wasn't enough, here's a fresh new headache for him.

A high-level whistleblower, who spoke on condition of anonymity, has revealed information that a den of Eastern Massasauga rattlesnakes, which are protected by law as a New York State endangered species, was observed in close proximity to the controversial construction site as recently as two years ago. In fact, so close was this colony of rare reptiles to the disruptive activity that it was inaccessible to this reporter, the area having been blocked off by Glynn's contractors. When asked why he hadn't spoken up sooner, the source cited fear of retaliation from James Glynn and his Albany allies.

If you're surprised to find out there are rattlesnakes in the Niagara Gorge, you're not alone. But in asking around, we heard the following eyewitness confirmations of this remarkable report.

For example, Dyan Zuber of St. Petersburg, Florida, messaged: "I saw it (a rattler) about 15 years ago. Very near to the whirlpool. It was so long I didn't stick around to witness either end of it... it was at least an inch and half in diameter, but probably more, not trying to exaggerate."

Susan Perrine, a tourist from Woolwich, Maine, related the following harrowing tale: "Some years ago my son and I were hiking down in the gorge north of Devil's Hole park. My son, who was 6 or 7 years old at the time, was kicking over rocks and there, coiled up under one, was quite a large snake. My son jumped backwards away from the snake, which retreated quickly into cover. We didn't hear or see a rattle, but I got a good look at it, and when we got back we checked a few references. Based on the coloration, the pattern on the back and the shape of the head, there's no doubt in my mind it was a rattlesnake."

A May, 2009 "blog" entry by a nature enthusiast hiking in the Niagara Gorge describes the following encounter: "My wife and I were hiking on the trail in the bottom of Niagara Gorge on the NY side. (Lower river, below the falls). We were VERY shocked to come nearly within striking distance of an Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, endangered in the US and threatened in Canada. Fortunately, no one was bit. It seems that they are very rarely seen... There's only two known populations of these snakes in New York, the nearest of which is at a wetlands near Rochester, about 85 miles away from where we saw this one. The other population is near Syracuse, where researchers seem happy to claim that there may be as many as 200 individuals. In other words, this is a very rare species living where it's not supposed to live and hasn't been reported for a very long time."

"I wasn't about to get out my camera with the snake staring me down... these snakes only have a striking distance of about half their body length (but) have a tendency to run from people instead of strike."

Major construction projects across the country have been delayed for years because of endangered species like the Tennessee Snail Darter and the Dusky Seaside Sparrow (which is now extinct). NYS Environmental Conservation law prohibits "disturbing, harrying or worrying" endangered species. Have Maid of the Mist contractors surreptitiously harassed or destroyed Massasauga rattlers, or their habitat, with a wink and nod from state regulators?

Clearly, there has been a sufficient number of sightings of the Massasauga in the gorge so as to warrant at least a cursory investigation into the matter by DEC wildlife biologists. However, given the repeated violations of SEQRA, the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and now possibly endangered species regulations that Cuomo and his agencies have perpetrated over the past year at Niagara Falls State Park and Schoellkopf locations, all extensively documented in the pages of this newspaper, you can bet they won't attempt it.

After all, who wouldn't want to keep their distance from a hellish pit of loathsome, venomous vipers?

Or the rattlesnakes either, for that matter.



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

Jul 23, 2013