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GUEST VIEW By Jim Hufnagel

Last Wednesday night the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Commission met for the third time, at the Castellani Art Museum, Niagara University. The December and January commission meetings had previously been held at the Niagara Power Vista, also in Lewiston, N.Y.

In addition to these monthly meetings, the National Park Service, which is the federal oversight agency, and its consultants for the creation of the Heritage Area -- JMA, Inc. and Heritage Strategies, LLC -- recently convened a special session in Youngstown.

Advertised by word of mouth and attended exclusively by Lewiston and Youngstown public officials and their invited guests, this ex parte gathering afforded an unique opportunity for leaders of the two communities north of the city to personally voice their goals and aspirations to the federal officials and consultants charged with implementing the Heritage Area management plan.

So far, not a single one of the four meetings for the establishment of the "Niagara Falls" National Heritage Area has actually taken place in the city of Niagara Falls.

The chair of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Commission is Dr. Thomas A. Chambers, history professor at Niagara University. He called Wednesday's meeting to order, extending a perfunctory welcome and calling the roll. Approximately 12 of 21 commissioners and alternates were in attendance (two arrived late).

The only commissioners present from the city of Niagara Falls were Mayor Paul Dyster, Mr. Willie Dunn of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, and Ms. Marjorie Gillies.

Six in attendance were residents of Youngstown or Lewiston, and/or directly affiliated with Lewiston institutions such as Niagara University, the New York State Power Authority and the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp.

Commissioners representing the National Park Service and the Tuscarora Nation were also present.

Last but not least, Mr. Christopher Glynn assumed his place at the table as the designated Maid of the Mist commissioner.

Five years ago, Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter painstakingly shepherded the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area legislation through a resistant and sometimes hostile Congress.

At the same time, some local critics attacked the initiative, saying that National Park Service expertise, and the $1 million annually for 15 years that came with it, were bad for the local tourism industry.

Among them, allegedly, was James Glynn, who has run the tremendously lucrative Maid of the Mist concession in the Niagara Falls State Park since 1971, beneficiary of an exclusive, no-bid sweetheart contract with New York State Parks.

Why would Glynn want the federal government sticking its nose into where it doesn't belong?

Five years later, James' son Chris, president of Maid of the Mist, sits on the National Heritage Commission.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

Distributed at the meeting was a hand-out, "Planning News #1," the first installment of a newsletter for the Heritage Area project. It answered questions such as "What is the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area?" and "What does all this mean for Lewiston and Youngstown?"

I'm kidding about that last one.

The newsletter lists the 15 sitting commissioners (two have yet to be officially appointed), including name, organizational affiliation and nominating entity. For example, "Jeffrey D. Williams, Lewiston Management Group, nominated by the Mayor of Lewiston," and "Margaret-Ann Hanson, former Village of Youngstown trustee, nominated by the Mayor of Youngstown."

Inexplicably, the only member of the commission meriting the respectful salutation "Honorable," Mayor Paul Dyster of the city of Niagara Falls, is listed as "Paul A. Dyster, Niagara River Greenway Commission, nominated by the Governor of New York."

Nearly all of the Heritage Commissioners were present at the inaugural December meeting, which was very sparsely attended by the public. Very sparsely. Amy Hope Witryol, Michael Parsnick and myself were among the small handful of interested citizens in attendance. Entertainment during the brief public comment period was provided by some gadfly who warned at length about total federal monopolistic domination of the local waterfront and tourist economy.

Actually, the guy wasn't far off the mark, because what we have now, between the Niagara Falls State Park, the Moses Power Project and the Gorge, is total state monopolistic domination of the local waterfront and tourist economy.

Subsequent to continuing coverage of the National Heritage initiative in the Reporter, including my Jan. 25 piece on the betrayal of the Frederick Law Olmsted plan for the park, the second meeting saw public participation and interest grow, and several local citizens respectfully addressed the commission with valid input to assist in their deliberations. Topics included Olmsted, the Moses Parkway and binational issues.

The gadfly was back at it, but this time two commissioners approached him during the break and apparently assuaged his fears of a military invasion and occupation of local tourism assets by the Obama administration, because he appeared to calm down somewhat after that.

This third meeting got off on the wrong foot when the chairman, Professor Chambers, opened the public comment session, and considering that hardly anything of substance had happened with the Niagara National Heritage Area since the January meeting other than the production of a newsletter, this time no one from the public had any comments.

That led Professor Chambers to close the session, stating that apparently "everyone had gotten it out of their system" last month.

Some years ago, now-Greenway "Commissioner Emeritus" Paul Leuchner was overheard asking a fellow Greenway commissioner if he was ready for "more raw sewage," prior to a similar public comment session.

Arrogantly evincing such disrespect for public opinion as these two gentlemen have, it would seem appropriate for both to step down.

After Wednesday's business meeting, a presentation was made by the consultant, followed by another public comment session, this one extended.

The gadfly was back at it, disrespectfully calling the commissioners "bobble-heads." Several minutes later, Commissioner Dunn stated that he took offense at that comment, as well he should have. Gadfly was still yapping away at him as the commissioner maintained his dignity by leaving the room.

Then an overweight woman in the back of the room -- who presented herself as an expert on trails, even though it was clear she doesn't spend much time on them -- berated commissioners for the "secret" Youngstown meeting mentioned earlier in this article. That resulted in several more minutes of vituperative back-and-forth.

Someone asked the consultant if, in the 30 years and dozens of Heritage Area projects nationwide, Congress had ever withdrawn funding for a National Heritage Area project.

Her answer: "Not yet."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 1, 2011