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By Jim Hufnagel

Warning: This editorial about the Niagara Greenway is extremely boring. You may want to turn the page right now before reading further.

The Niagara Greenway as a topic for public debate is a better sleep-inducer than knock-out drops. That's what former Niagara Gazette editor David Arkin once told me in so many words.

We were at a Reader Advisory Board meeting upstairs at the Gazette offices on Niagara Street. The Gazette provided a forum once a month for involved readers to gather, enjoy dinner with Gazette staff and offer constructive comments for the betterment of the paper.

We'd sit around a big table and one by one take turns lecturing first Arkin, and later Dick Lucinski, on how they could do their job better. Usually there were one or two Gazette reporters sitting in, feigning rapt attention and interest.

After a while, it became clear how these meetings would play out. A woman would take 10 minutes critiquing the TV listings. Discussion would follow. Some codger would bemoan the fact that his favorite cartoon had been discontinued 10 years ago. Then came my turn.

"Given the fact that the Glynn family makes millions of dollars every year from their Maid of the Mist monopoly in the Niagara Falls State Park," I would ask, "doesn't having Gazette staff writer and columnist Don Glynn cover state parks issues constitute a blatant conflict of interest?"

I was a big hit with the Reader Advisory Board.

"Why is a crucial meeting about the $7 million-a-year Niagara Greenway relegated to Page 5 instead of the front page?" I demanded, waving an issue of the Gazette in the air at Arkin in what some might say was a threatening manner.

Arkin's eventual response, after looking for an answer inscribed somewhere on the table in front of him, or on the ceiling or the lining of his upper eyelids, was something on the order of, "Readers just find it boring."

Around the same time, I called Scott Leffler, host of Dialog on WLVL-AM Lockport, about doing a Greenway show a week before the critical meeting at the Niagara Falls Conference Center. I had been on Leffler's show no fewer than six times earlier during his tenure, when he seemed genuinely interested in having guests with alternative and provocative points of view.

I pleaded with him.

"Scott, we're talking about how $7 million will be spent, every year for the next 50 years!"

"Boring!" was his response.

Scott might have lasted as a talk show host if he had had more of what it takes: talent, insight, maturity and a working knowledge of politics.

The Niagara Greenway was invented by Buffalo Assemblyman and sex addict Sam Hoyt. Utilizing a political ploy as old as the hills, Hoyt got his Greenway legislation signed by Republican governor George Pataki, ceding Pataki the bulk of appointments to the new Greenway Commission. In fact, 17 of the original 20 Greenway commissioners, including ex officio members, were Republicans.

Being from Buffalo, Hoyt didn't give a flying poke about Niagara County. He structured a bill allocating $3 million a year to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, $3 million a year to be fought over by communities from Lackawanna to Youngstown, and $1 million a year to be spent at the discretion of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, a puppet organization set up by NYPA to recoup relicensing dollars that otherwise would have been wasted on Niagara County communities.

The next time you find yourself at the Brydges Library on Main Street with some time on your hands, ask to see the Niagara Greenway plan. With $750,000 of Greenway pork in hand, Wendel-Duscherer produced a plan replete with photos of the local waterfront, an inventory of local tourism assets, and vague guidelines about what a Greenway should look like. To be perfectly honest, it's nothing that a reasonably motivated high school arts class couldn't have come up with.

Our Niagara County leaders resigned themselves to the fact that a new 50-year license from the Bush administration for NYPA's Niagara Power Project was a fait accompli. However, Congressman Brian Higgins of South Buffalo said, hold on, we deserve a better deal.

He demanded more money for the city of Buffalo.

NYPA said no, take our offer and like it.

Higgins responded, give us a better deal, or submit to a comprehensive audit.

So, trembling like a punk with a stash in his high school locker watching the K-9 unit pull into the traffic circle, NYPA came up with $2 million more a year for the Buffalo waterfront Greenway initiative, while our Niagara County leaders looked on, clenching their butt cheeks.

Admittedly, this is all water under the bridge. However, we are living with the economic and quality-of-life consequences every day.

Look at a map of Niagara County. Take up a red pen and trace the waterfront of the city of Niagara Falls. Starting at the Grand Island Bridge, along the south Moses Parkway, around the Niagara Falls State Park to the north Moses Parkway and the Power Project. Over 80 percent of the waterfront of the city of Niagara Falls is owned and operated by New York state.

You have probably read, in this paper and elsewhere, about Greenway splashparks in Olcott, dogparks in Lewiston, sidewalks in Sanborn, latrines at Reservoir State Park and the controversial plans for Jayne Park. The point is, when you don't have control over your own waterfront, you're backed into a corner and drastically limited as to how this potential Greenway windfall may be best utilized for the benefit of our communities.

I therefore call on state Sen. Antoine Thompson and Assemblywoman Francine Del Monte to introduce legislation to amend the original Greenway legislation.

We need more control over how and where Greenway funds are spent. Parking lots in the Niagara Falls State Park should be closed, so that, in keeping with the stated mission of the Niagara Greenway, our local Niagara Falls and Niagara County economy realizes the full benefit of tourist dollars.

Greenway legislation should be revised so that local stakeholders have a say in how state parks spends their $3 million annual allocation on the waterfront they hold captive. Our waterfront needs to be reclaimed and resculpted. We owe it to the next generation.

NYPA relicensing may be ancient history, but the next chapter is in our hands, if only we demand that it be so.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 6, 2010