Campaign Contributions, Connections, Cronyism Drive State Parks Construction Frenzy

Pavers and more pavers in the Niagara Falls State Park, courtesy of Saratoga Springs, NY-based "Friends of Andrew Cuomo", as far as the eye can see.

Pavers and more pavers in the Niagara Falls State Park, courtesy of Saratoga Springs, NY-based “Friends of Andrew Cuomo”, as far as the eye can see.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s overarching “NY Parks 2020: A 7-Point Vision for Transforming NYS Parks” plan purports to “renew the stewardship of our state parks system” by “modernizing and bringing state parks to 21st century standards.”

We’ve taken a closer look at NY Parks 2020, and found it to have less to do with improving the public’s experience of nature and more with perpetuating pay-to-play cronyism.

The NY Parks 2020 document states “In his first term, Governor Cuomo has made tremendous progress to revitalize parks… By 2020, NY Parks will leverage private philanthropy and other public dollars to yield a $900 million
investment in State Parks.” A pie chart splits it up as follows: 52% for “infrastructure” (sewer and water, roads and parking, utilities, dams and renovation projects), 27% for recreational facilities (bathrooms, campgrounds and golf courses), 11% for new Visitor Facilities and 10% for “Resiliency and Stewardship” (historic sites, natural resource improvements and trails).

In summary, 90% for planners, architects, construction companies, electrical and plumbing contractors, landscapers and pavers, to build stuff, and 10% for history, nature and trails.

For example, the worldwide engineering and development firm Parsons Brinckerhoff is managing construction of the new $6.75 million Letchworth State Park Nature Center. Parsons Brinckerhoff contributed $15,000 in four separate payments to Gov. Cuomo’s re-election campaign over a period spanning 2013 and 2014.

Similarly, last month the governor announced that a new, $6.5 million visitor center would be built at the entrance to Watkins Glen State Park. While awarding a contract to the winning construction bid is pending, we have learned that the architectural firm chosen for the project is Saratoga Associates of Saratoga Springs, NY.

Quid pro quo, pay for play, legalized bribery or as the Italian expression goes, "s*** in my pocket", the bottom line is that the present system of crony capitalism stinks.

Quid pro quo, pay for play, legalized bribery or as the Italian expression goes, “s*** in my pocket”, the bottom line is that the present system of crony capitalism stinks.

Two years ago this month, the Niagara Falls Reporter broke a two-part story (“Prospect Point Improvement Plan Includes Use of Overpriced Granite” and “Granite-Gate Part 2: Saratoga Husband and Wife Team Develop and Execute Plans for Expensive Granite in State Park”) revealing that another Saratoga-based outfit, LA Group Landscape Architects of Saratoga Springs (near Albany) ensured that quarry owner, Champlain Stone, also from Saratoga, got the business to supply millions of dollars worth of granite pavers in the Niagara Falls State Park.

How it happens that all of the extensive planning, design and construction in the world-famous park, including sourcing of materials, emanates from three Saratoga Springs, NY firms instead of local landscape architecture and construction companies is a mystery only Albany and State Parks insiders could explain.

Another of the big winners in the Niagara Falls State Park “Landscape Improvements” sweepstakes appears to be T Y Lin International Group of Rochester, NY, which has been so far been paid $4,756,426.30 on a $6,050,000.00
consulting contract, starting on June 22, 2012 and running until December 20, 2017, to provide site engineering, MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing), structural engineering and certain architectural work in the park. A nice return on the $1000 political contribution that T Y Lin International kicked in back in 2013 to Andrew Cuomo’s campaign chest, or kicked back, as it were.

However, the all-time favorite of Gov. Cuomo and his New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the hands-down “go to” folks when it comes to contracting major projects, appears to be Scott Lawn Yard, Inc. of Sanborn, NY.

Since April of 2013, Scott Lawn Yard has hit the jackpot when it comes to government work in two Niagara Falls and Buffalo state parks: Cave of the Winds reconstruction ($5,487,000), Buffalo Harbor State Park playground
($3,045,000), Buffalo Harbor State Park seawall and revetment ($3,763,000), Prospect Point and Lower Grove Site improvements in Niagara Falls State Park ($4,694,330) and Niagara Falls Parks Police Station site work ($1,569,000).

Inexplicably, “Open Book New York”, a web site maintained by the state Comptrollers which lists all ongoing state contracts and from which we draw this information, does not feature an entry for the contract to bulldoze, pave and fence off of Three Sisters Islands, which was also performed by Scott Lawn Yard, nor does it include the latest parking lot under construction there (see “Goat Island becoming one big Parking lot” in the Jan. 6 Reporter). It does list an additional $780,606 contract with the state Dept. of Transportation, commencing on 4/22/2015, for tree removal, pruning & stump removal, something which, given the butchering of Three Sisters Islands, appears to be a better fit for their skill set.

Scott Lawn Yard is named after founder and owner Scott Miller of Lewiston, admittedly a stroke of marketing genius on his part given that it is not in any way affiliated with lawn and garden care giant Scotts.

While we found no direct contributions to Cuomo, Scott Lawn Yard has ponied up over $1300 to political campaigns recently.

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