Congressman says NYPA's actions were destructive to Niagara Falls and city is owed restitution to reconnect the community with its waterfront
Congressman Brian Higgins was joined Friday by Niagara County resident Mamie Simonson, whose home, he said, was taken against her will by the New York Power Authority in 1959 and demolished in preparation for construction of the Robert Moses Parkway.
Simonson provided a first-hand account of the extent of NYPA's involvement with the parkway. Higgins' camp said she offered further evidence of the destructive impact NYPA's parkway put on local residents then and still today.
"The Simonsons' story illustrates the destruction caused to this community and its residents by NYPA's placement of the Robert Moses Parkway as a barricade to Niagara Falls and the Niagara gorge," Higgins said. "It is not their story alone, it is the story of an entire city devastated by NYPA's actions. Mrs. Simonson will never have her house back, but NYPA's leadership can right a wrong by giving this city its waterfront back."
Higgins' camp said Simonson and her late-husband, Marvin, were the last holdouts among the evictees on Whirlpool Street whose homes were demolished by NYPA for construction of the parkway. The Simonsons fought against NYPA's practices during the eminent domain process. In response, they received a blunt letter from NYPA which stated, in part, "Your house was in the way of a great public improvement and like other people similarly situated, it was necessary for you to move."
In January, Higgins kicked off his fight to help Niagara Falls reclaim its waterfront through removal of the Robert Moses Parkway, which separates the city from its iconic water. In a subsequent meeting, NYPA leaders insisted NYPA did not play a leading role in the project, contending it was led by the Niagara Frontier Parks Commission. Higgins followed up with a letter to NYPA restating its role and responsibility relative to the parkway and outlining potential funding mechanisms through which NYPA could fund the parkway removal project. The congressman also spoke about NYPA's obligation to fund the parkway in remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives.
The total project cost is estimated to be upwards of $75 million. Although a small portion of that project cost (about $10 million) was recently dedicated by the state, Higgins contends that money should be spent elsewhere in Niagara Falls. He issued a report detailing NYPA's ability to fund the entire project and suggests in his letter to NYPA that it could do so by potentially funding the project through an enhanced settlement or a capital improvement of its own land.
Higgins was instrumental in securing a $279 million settlement from the New York Power Authority in 2005 that is currently transforming Buffalo's waterfront. He assumed representation of the City of Niagara Falls in 2013.