Story and photo by Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston encountered some questioning at the Niagara River Greenway Commission's Tuesday review of its application for some $5.7 million in Phase I Joseph Davis State Park improvements.
"We have some important decisions to be made here," led off Greenway Commission Chair Robert J. Kresse, as the session got under way. When it was all said and done, Lewiston's application presented by Town Supervisor Steve Reiter did get its desired vote of consistency from the commission members. But the going wasn't all that easy.
The session opened with a handful of comments from a small group who accompanied representatives of seven groups from Erie and Niagara counties, including Lewiston's, who visited with Greenway commissioners at the Beaver Island State Park Clubhouse on Grand Island to review their submitted proposals.
Besides Lewiston's, they included: Niagara County Community College - Niagara Community Trail; the Town of Wilson - town walkway and bicycle trail; the Buffalo Urban Development Corp - Riverbend Master Plan and Green Infrastructure Plan; Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper - Niagara River Riparian Restoration Program; the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council - Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration, and Buffalo Olmstead Parks Conservancy - Front Park Gateway.
Leading off the limited comments was opposition to Lewiston's JDP proposal by Sanborn resident RoseMary Warren. "I've come here to speak out against the Joseph Davis Park proposal. It wasn't thought through enough, there are too many projects," said Warren, urging a no consensus vote. Warren also questioned the role of the commission and of host committee voting in the funding process.
The other comment on the Lewiston proposal was in favor and came from Paul Jackson, president of the Niagara River Anglers Association, who endorsed a plan for a boat launch area to be incorporated into the park's river edge near the current fishing pier off of Lower River Road. "It will be a boon for us," said Jackson who was joined by NRAA members.
Reiter, who presented Lewiston's proposal, opened his remarks with praise for Joe Davis Park. "This is a beautiful park," said Reiter, telling the commissioners the town came to the rescue last year to thwart off a possible closure of JDP by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation during the state's budget crisis. "That park was scheduled to be closed. We took it upon ourselves to keep it open, to improve it ... there's been increased use since," said Reiter.
Reiter said the JDP proposal presented several areas of consistency in the vision of Greenway, such as boating access, the Audubon facility, nature camps, equestrian and walking trails, pond enhancements, even the potential for a farmers market to capitalize on the region's agriculture. "We understand our relationship with the state, but some of these plans are very costly," said Reiter in response to questions posed by Kresse of Lewiston's proposals and its lease agreement with State Parks. "The town is on a 10-plus, 10-year lease. It will be a better park when we're done," said Reiter. He noted the strong interest locally on a potential 18-foot wide boat launch facility that would be built on the river's edge.
Issues regarding the public participation process were raised by Greenway Commissioner David Hahn Baker. In response Reiter told commissioners of a Joe Davis Park committee of local residents that was formed last year and which ultimately led to the formation of the Joseph Davis Park Local Development Corporation.
Still the questions continued.
Tom DePriest, commission member representing the state Department of Environmental Conservation, voiced DEC opposition to the plans for the boat launch at JDP. DEC had earlier gone on record in opposition, citing engineering concerns and shoreline impacts from the plan.
"The town needs to be leery in approaching riverfront areas," said DePriest. Reiter responded that the launch would be occupying just a small piece of the town's 1,200-plus feet of river shoreline at JDP and that there are economic limitations in the region, due to a lack of available boat launches in the area to serve the area's growing sport fisheries business.
Greenway member Sean Edwards, formerly a Town of Lewiston councilman, agreed that a lot of improvements to JDP were needed and suggested that the town work on pursuing a partnership with DEC to better carry out the plans. Reiter responded the town has been working to address the engineering concerns and that a lot has already changed in the process.
Still, that failed to convince DePriest, who was one of the few members who voted the Lewiston plan as inconsistent, citing shoreline impact concerns.
Kresse returned again, this time with questions over the allocation of funds, citing the town's accounts that it was allocated $5 million in funds from Greenway as a result of licensing agreements with the New York Power Authority. "Where's all this coming from," asked Kresse, saying he had concerns stemming from the town's repeated appearances. "This goes back to the town asking for a lot of money before they even had it."
Greenway member John Daly, representing the interests of NYPA on the panel, stated that Lewiston is indeed eligible, due to provisions contained in the 2007 NYPA licensing settlement as a host community.
"We have touched on every element of funding on our own before we approached this," added Reiter.
Kresse said he had questioned the town's repeated requests for allocations as he sought to safeguard other communities' interests with regards to Greenway funding availability. Pointing to the Greenway concept he asked, "Are we (not) going to build a linear park from one area to the next to benefit us all and not one particular community (Lewiston)?"
Kresse added that overall he supported the Joe Davis improvements but again suggested that the Greenway linear concept should not be superseded by the interests of others.
On a vote, the Lewiston JDP proposal was approved as having consistency. Virtually all Greenway members, including Kresse voted in favor. The two negative votes came from Hahn Baker and DePriest.
"It's a great day in Lewiston," commented a happy Reiter afterward.
In other Greenway actions on Tuesday, all submitted projects, with the exception of the NCCC trails proposal, were found to be consistent with the Greenway concept.