by Terry Duffy
The "Use of resources to complete improvements ...has been the mission of the LDC."
So summarized Louis Giardino, president and CEO of CEA International of Rochester, to Lewiston Town Board members and visitors Monday on the purpose of the Joseph Davis State Park Local Development Corp. and its activities on behalf of the town thus far.
Giardino in his presentation provided details on what the JDSPLDC has been tasked to do since its formation by the town over the past year. In essence, since the town's application filing last fall with the Niagara River Greenway Commission, seeking $5.7 million for JDSP improvements that was ultimately approved, the LDC has been in active discussion on a number of fronts with the New York State Parks Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Giardino said. Topics included the various improvement projects contained in the town's earlier application to Greenway (see Sentinel, Jan. 14 and Jan. 21 issues). Also discussed were comparisons to the JDP master plan of 2004 that was prepared by NYSOPRHP and present-day town proposals. "We have strived to remain consistent (with regards to the master plan and the town's proposal)," said Giardino, who adds that changes in park focus is evident since the 2004 plan. "It's been quite a challenge to maintain to that plan."
Still, he told Supervisor Steve Reiter and the board that "State Parks likes what we're doing."
Giardino said the state's 2004 master plan focused on approaches geared to specific areas within the 357-acre park, including a riverside area, the central day use area, the partnership area and the eastern area. All took into account state funding availability at the time and some were planned and/or completed accordingly. Giardino said back then the state considered a general "passive approach" to park improvements with its limited funding availability, whereas with the availability of Greenway money the town has been more progressive in its planning. "State Parks is responding cautiously but favorably to Lewiston's plans," he said.
He pointed out that any and all improvements would need to be viewed with regards to the legal and environmental requirements contained in the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and various federal and state environmental rules.
State Parks, in a March 26 letter to Reiter that was obtained by the Sentinel, reiterated some of Giardino's statements. "... We have not ruled out any proposed projects," said Christopher M. Pushkarsh, director, Regional Operations and Resource Development for NYSOPRHP, in the letter that was discussed at Monday's session. Pushkarsh said State Parks clarified its stance on the proposal in an attempt to "help the town better understand the legal and process-based requirements and constraints that must be fully addressed before we move forward with any improvements."
He added that State Parks would be scheduling a work session with its regional and environmental management staffs for the purpose of defining its scope of review for the proposed town projects and for Lewiston to "formally initiate the SEQR process."
Giardino said one area where Lewiston has latitude thus far is with its ability to plan with Greenway funding in mind. Projects such as paving, park maintenance and possibly the staging of a Nik Wallenda training exercise in preparation to his upcoming Niagara Falls tightrope walk are among the activities eyed for the park thus far. All projects however would need to remain within the consistency and intent of the 2004 JDSP master plan, and followed through with SEQR studies and conformance to state/federal requirements.
One area where the state remains very cautious, however, is in the area of discussions concerning a lease and/or possible ownership of Joe Davis. The town broached the idea of an extended 40-year lease and also the ownership idea with State Parks and has received a cool reception thus far.
"Ownership could take place, but it's complicated," said Giardino. He said State Parks is seeking greater details from the town on what it intends to address specifically at JDSP for the 2012 season.
Thus far the town has been active in its discussions with New York State Parks concerning an extended lease and or possible ownership of JDSP. Both State Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblyman John Ceretto, along with Reiter, met with State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey in June 2011.
"The assemblyman and senator met with State Parks on this a few months ago and also on March 19 of this month," said Ceretto spokesman Patrick Kelly. "They are in contact with the town, its consultants and State Parks on a regular basis via phone."
Kelly also said both legislators proposed a conference call arrangement between their respective offices, State Parks, Reiter and Giardino. "Senator Maziarz and Assemblyman Ceretto have been diligent and will continue to remain diligent in finding a solution that will benefit the Town of Lewiston, local residents and those who recreate at Joseph Davis State Park," said Kelly.
But as noted, thus far the state remains very hesitant to the prospect of any extended lease/ownership arrangement of JDSP with the town. According to the letter by Pushkarsh, the town's need to abide to any approved changes to the master plan with respect to JDSP improvements; issues of conforming with the federal LWCF due to conversion of parkland issues and the likely need for replacement of parkland being forfeited should the state transfer park ownership to the town; plus approval of the whole package by the state comptroller's office are all issues that need to be resolved. "State Parks does not support this concept," wrote Pushkarsh of changes to the current cooperative agreement (10-year lease) the town has with State Parks. "... We cannot agree to a 40-year park-wide lease to support projects inconsistent with the master plan; for which no environmental review has been taken; for which we lack long-term lease negotiation and which would trigger a 6F conversion (parkland replacement scenario) under LWCF."
Reiter said Monday the various improvements considered need State Parks approval for any projects to move forward at the park and Greenway funding to commence. "If the park lease cannot be improved there is no point going forward with improvements. I feel frustrated on claims that we're not being transparent ... we've had meetings (with parks)."
"When the (park's) goals, benefits, progress are so clear, why is it taking so long to get this done?" asked Reiter. "Lewiston is taking it on itself to make Joe Davis a regional asset.
"We have reached a crossroads on the lease. We're at a point where we have to decide - soon - (whether to continue) or if we should walk away on this."
Councilman Al Bax, who earlier raised issue on how the LDC was operating, joined in in casting blame on State Parks. "If ever there was a time when the state would negotiate, it was when the park was a mess," said Bax, referring to the town's assuming park maintenance in the midst of the state budget crisis. "With money being expended, negotiations have to be done the right way."
"The state has to come to the realization that the town is bailing it out" with respect to Joseph Davis, said Giardino.
He closed by urging local residents to get the full facts on the JDSPLDC by visiting its website, www.jdspldc.org, and by attending its next meeting, Tuesday, April 17, at the Lewiston Senior Center.
Reiter likewise encouraged continued focus on the matter, by announcing that the JDSPLDC would further update the Town Board and residents on the park situation at a public information meeting, Monday, April 23, at Town Hall.