Story and photo by Joshua Maloni
The Niagara River Greenway Plan, which began in 2002 as a bullet point in then-Gov. George Pataki's State of the State address, was signed and approved Thursday by state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash. The plan, in physical boundary and purpose, is a series of interconnected points stretching from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. It was created to complement and herald the region's environmental, cultural and industrial heritage.
"The Niagara River Greenway is a significant ecological and cultural resource, and is vital to the revitalization and development of Western New York," Ash said.
The Greenway Plan was signed into legislation in September 2004. Last year, 14 commissioners, 13 municipalities and the public at large came together through a series of meetings to collaborate on a vision for the region - comprised of projects designed to preserve and enhance natural resources, landmarks and sites, and funded over the next 50 years with a base seed of $450 million, courtesy of the New York Power Authority's relicensing agreement.
In November 2006, the draft plan was presented. Initially, members of the Niagara Power Coalition received it with skepticism. That entity, which is comprised of host communities neighboring the Power Authority, negotiated its own relicensing settlement. It expressed dismay over the Greenway boundary and some plan language.
A compromise was reached in March, and all 13 municipalities voted to approve the plan.
Ash received the document at the end of March. On Thursday, she articulated her satisfaction with the unity that led to the plan's completion.
"I'm thrilled that ... now we are to a point where the 13 tails are all working together," she said. Expressing the importance of continued relationships, she added, "I think this can be a wonderful new beginning for this area."
Projects can now be considered for Greenway Funding. An application criterion is currently in draft form. The final version will be available at www.niagaragreenway.org.
To receive Greenway funding, ventures will be required to be in line with the plan's purpose. While all reasonable submittals will be considered, projects that will better connect communities to the river, build connections and restore or upgrade resources and landmarks will be given a higher priority.
State Sen. Antoine Thompson, D-60th District, said the plan's approval, "Represents the opportunity to really expand access to our waterfront."
"The optimism, that is today, is that it will get better," he said.
Ultimately, two standing committees - one in Niagara County and one in Erie County - will determine which projects are viable and, subsequently, provide appropriate funding.
Greenway Commissioner Paul Dyster said members of the community who contributed their ideas to the cause can expect to see their input come to life.
"If you participated in the process, you're going to see a reflection of your work in the plan," he said.
The Greenway Commission's mission statement reads: "The Niagara River Greenway is a world-class corridor of places, parks and landscapes that celebrates and interprets our unique natural, cultural, recreational, scenic and heritage resources and provides access to and connections between these important resources while giving rise to economic opportunities for the region."