Not a Single Project Submission for Greenway this Funding Cycle

For the first time in the ten year history of the Niagara River Greenway, not a single proposal was submitted for review this bimonthly project period. The September 19 meeting was strictly a formality, with no presentations taking place.

Funded through the 2007 relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority for the Niagara Power Project, the mission of the Niagara River Greenway, as presented on the home page of its website, is “To continue and advance the state’s commitment to the preservtion, enhancement and development of the world-renowned scenic, natural, historic, cultural and recreational resources of the Niagara River Greenway Commission while continuing to emphasize economic development activities and remaining consistent with the tradition of municipal home rule.”

Have you ever read a more carelessly worded Mission Statement?

The word “preservation” is misspelled, and the word “continue” is used twice.

In addition, it wouldn’t be the “state’s” commitment, it would be NYPA’s commitment. Given that NYPA is a public authority that doesn’t answer to the governor or state legislature beyond the occasional appointment of a board member or politically-connected chairman, the two are entirely different entities. Therefore, when it comes to the millions of ratepayer dollars that are spent on theater marquees, dog parks, statues, playgrounds, sidewalks and reptile houses by Greenway, the average citizen has zero input to the process, other than showing up to comment at a Commission meeting and being totally ignored.

With the Greenway originally intended to be an environmental initiative, and Niagara County essentially being a Republican stronghold, of course it was necessary to mollify conservative sensibilities in the Mission Statement by throwing in the gratuitous phrase, “remaining consistent with the tradition of municipal home rule.”

Finally, the “world-renowned scenic, natural, historic, cultural and recreational resources” belong to… the Niagara River Greenway Commission?

It’s still hard to comprehend how it could be that not a single one of over a dozen towns, cities and school districts from Buffalo to Youngstown applied to partake of the $9 million made available every year through the Greenway, notwithstanding the fact that individuals and non-profits must jump through innumerable hoops, including gaining approval of the politicians who retain control over all projects proposed for their particular fiefdoms.

Maybe part of the story is that, while Buffalo has spent many millions in Greenway funding to improve its Lake Erie waterfront, creating a natural and recreational resource that’s becoming the envy of all Great Lakes cities, and restores habitat in and around islands located off its Niagara River shoreline, the city of Niagara Falls neither owns nor controls anything on its waterfront, because its waterfront was long ago hijacked by Albany through NYPA and New York State Parks.

In fact, the first $25 million of the Niagara Falls State Park “Landscape Improvements” plan came from State Parks’ annual $3 million cut of Greenway funding. With it, the state agency has obliterated any trace of the Frederick Law Olmsted design for the park and maximized the state’s tourist revenue by expanding parking lots, food service and bathroom facilities, ensuring that the eight million tourists who visit here every year stick to the state park and have no reason to enter or spend money in downtown Niagara Falls.

In other words, in direct contradiction of its supposed directive to “emphasize economic development activities” as stated in its Mission Statement, the Niagara Greenway has actually made us poorer.

From time to time, when the city of Niagara Falls pushes the panic button with regards to its budget shortfalls, like what happened during the great recession of 2007-2009 immediately followed by the first impasse over casino revenues from 2009-2013, talk is reignited over speeding up payments, or even taking a lump sum, from NYPA in lieu of annual payments for the next 40 years.

So here’s our suggestion: Why not just forget this whole Greenway charade (with rare exception, it’s done next to nothing for the environment here in Niagara County), discount the remaining $200 million ($2 million of the $9 million a year goes directly to Buffalo thanks to Congressman Higgins’ negotiating skills, and as previously noted, $3 million a year goes to State Parks, so that leaves $5 million annually for the next 40 years) to the present day, and split it up among the various municipal and school district entities.

Niagara Falls’ share may possibly keep the control board away for a year or two.

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