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Greenway Advisors Just Wasting Their Time?

By James Hufnagel

Buffalo can benefit from the Greenway Commission because, unlike Niagara Falls, Buffalo owns most of its own waterfront.
While Niagara Falls is chock full of waterfront, somehow, New York State Parks and the New York Power Authority wound up owning almost all of it, making the city ineligible for most Greenway money.

Beset by a budget crisis and wracked with internecine squabbles, the city of Niagara Falls is deeply mired in a winter of discontent. The cumulative impact of state policies ruinous to the city's fiscal well-being is taking a toll, not just on programs and projects and quality of life, but on the very psyche of its citizens, whose favorite pastime lately is lashing out in frustration at anything and everything political that moves. So what's the answer to our painful and seemingly intractable problems? Why, another installment of the Great Traveling $450 Million Niagara Greenway Road Show!

That's right, $450 million. But as the Soup Nazi would say, "Not for you!"

Find out what that is all about by attending the next meeting of the Niagara Greenway Commission's "Citizens' Advisory Committee" on Wednesday, March 27 at 6:30 PM at the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, 28 Old Falls Street, in the 1st Floor Atrium, to be hosted by Greenway Commission Chair Robert Kresse (of Buffalo) and Citizens' Advisory Committee Chair David Hahn-Baker (also of Buffalo).

The Niagara River Greenway, shepherded through the state legislature by former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (of Buffalo), awards $2 million a year in NYPA relicensing funds to Buffalo and Erie County, $1 million a year to an ecological fund controlled by Buffalo interests, $3 million a year to New York State Parks, which they are using to expand and improve their tourist industry monopoly in the Niagara Falls State Park, and $3 million to be shared by assorted communities throughout Western New York from Olcott to, you guessed it, Buffalo.

While Niagara Falls city government experiences meltdown over relatively paltry sums for NACC support, meals for politicians and Great Lakes membership dues, the annual $3 million Greenway funding portion accessible to the city of Niagara Falls continues, year after year, to look for a home, which it usually finds elsewhere (Buffalo). This is partly because the road to a Greenway grant is long and tortuous: a complicated bureaucratic process more easily navigated by accountants than environmentalists, that involves lengthy applications which must be approved by various stakeholders before being submitted to the Greenway Commission, which rules on a project's "consistency" but must then pass it along to a standing committee for the additional step of funding authorization.

But the main reason that it's far more difficult for Niagara Falls to obtain Greenway funding is because Greenway dollars are supposed to underwrite waterfront improvements, and unlike Buffalo, the waterfront of the city of Niagara Falls is owned and operated by New York State Parks and NYPA. Of course, Hoyt was fully cognizant of this fact when he wrote the Greenway legislation.

If you plan to attend the Greenway meeting at the Culinary Institute tomorrow, be forewarned that what passes for a "Citizens' Advisory Committee" is something of a joke, even though it was established by statutory language in the legislative act that created the Niagara Greenway.

According to the Niagara Greenway plan, which cost $750,000 and is now gathering dust on a shelf in your local library, "The (Greenway) Commission recognizes that there should be procedures established allowing citizens to raise potential issues and a mechanism for soliciting public input... The Citizens' Advisory Committee will be used to facilitate that input, report(ing) to the Greenway Commission at least annually on the status of the plan and convey information and comments received in relation to the need or lack thereof for amendments to the plan."

It hasn't worked out that way. The only identified members of the Citizens' Advisory Committee are the abovementioned Greenway Commission Chair Robert Kresse (of Buffalo) and Citizens' Advisory Committee Chair David Hahn-Baker (also of Buffalo). If you show up, congratulations, you are now considered a member of the Citizens' Advisory Committee. As are all other members of the Citizens' Advisory Committee, however, you are required to sit in the audience, which in the past has usually numbered less than a dozen. You must wait your turn to stand at the microphone, a supplicant before Kresse and Hahn-Baker, addressing them at a distance as they preside from their lofty perch at the head table flanked by various assistants and State Parks hacks.

The first Citizens' Advisory Committee Chair was Paul Dyster, who held the position briefly before becoming Mayor of Niagara Falls in 2008. It was nearly a year before Hahn-Baker was appointed to replace him, and years more before he and Kresse finally got around to convening the committee, coincidentally after an October 11, 2011 column that appeared in the Niagara Falls Reporter revealing that a recently-elected Gov. Andrew Cuomo was contemplating eliminating the Greenway altogether to help close the state budget deficit.

So if you're tired of the Greenway lacking coherence and relevance, of being a shameful, disjointed waste of relicensing dollars, funding local politicians' pet projects instead of the "planning and development of a greenway of interconnected parks, river access points and waterfront trails along the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario" that it's meant to be, drop by tomorrow and give Buffalonians Kresse and Hahn-Baker some "input in relation to the need for amendments to the plan", Niagara Falls-style.



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

Mar26, 2013