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While the money from the Power Authority relicensing agreement hasn't even arrived yet, a newly formed state commission -- with the help of Democrats in the state Assembly -- is already trying to wrest much of it from the communities it was meant to benefit.

The Niagara River Greenway Commission was created by Gov. George Pataki last fall to come up with a plan for a park system along the Niagara River stretching from Buffalo to Youngstown. Unfortunately, little funding was set aside to implement the plan.

In Niagara County, $3 million was set aside annually under the agreement to be divided between the county, the city of Niagara Falls, the towns of Lewiston and Niagara and three school districts. The local officials who signed the relicensing said they were under the impression the money was to be used for the creation and improvement of parks and other recreational facilities under their care.

But last week, the Greenway Commission -- with the help of Democratic Assemblymen Paul Tokasz of Cheektowaga and Sam Hoyt of Buffalo -- attacked the Niagara County communities, saying that the money could only be spent on waterfront improvements. Tokasz and Hoyt went so far as to propose legislation mandating the money be spent on the banks of the Niagara.

"This is a money grab designed to take funding away from Niagara County and redistribute it to Erie County," said state Sen. George Maziarz. "What they're attempting to do borders on outright theft."

While Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Tonawanda have plenty of undeveloped riverfront property, similar real estate is rare in Niagara County, where the state already controls much of the property. The Niagara Falls School District has no land on the river, for example, and would forfeit all its share of the revenue should the Assembly bill go through.

Interestingly, Greenway Commissioner and former city councilman Paul Dyster has not commented on the proposed scam. Neither has Democratic Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte, whose Niagara Falls district would stand to lose plenty should her party's plan go through.

If the state wants to build a waterfront park system, fine. Let them do it. Let them use the billions they already rake in from the state park at Niagara Falls, the Maid of the Mist, the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant and Old Fort Niagara.

But don't take any more money out of our collective pockets.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 14 2006