By Nathan McMurray
Supervisor, Town of Grand Island
I have a plan for West River. Some people have claimed I have had a plan all along - a devious plan. Alternatively, they have said I'm a pawn in the state's plan. Or were they a pawn in my plan?
What was the claim again? I can't keep it straight. It seems that there are individuals out there who will say or do anything they can to scare you about West River.
The reality is that I am just trying to be supportive of the established process and make sure our town does not miss out on a project most towns would fight for. But let's end the innuendo and speculation, shall we? Because now I really do have a plan! Let's call it "Enhanced Option 3!" Are you ready?
I've been quiet on this issue
Before I unveil by big plan, I wanted to explain why I've been quiet lately about the West River project. People have been reaching out saying, "Nate, I'll order 'Close the Parkway' signs! We need to fight back! Let's go door to door! Let's make some noise!"
But we've had enough noise, haven't we? I don't want another sign war cluttering up Grand Island. Someone has placed the West River matter on every single Town Board agenda since as far back as I can remember, even though we essentially have nothing to talk about. The show is getting tedious. Plus we have had an information hearing - two of them - thousands of comments, studies, news stories, and plenty of attention. There are other issues important to the people of Grand Island to talk about.
It's more than just the fact that I want to stop the needless angst. I've been trying to be polite enough to allow the state to do its work. The state has jurisdiction over West River and the parkway. We can take our shoes off and bang the table all we want yelling, "That's the people's land!" That may be true, and it may score political points to yell it. It's easy to scapegoat anyone who works for the state.
But we are a nation of laws. And under the law, no one person, or group, or street, or councilman, has a right to say unilaterally what the state should or should not do. Therefore, if we really want to do more than rabble rouse we must work with the state, rather than dictate to them.
Option 4 is expensive, and not really an option
That's why the so-called "Option 4" (i.e., putting another layer of asphalt right through the middle of the green space on West River between the two roads) is so troublesome to me. It's not an option. It's like getting asked "chicken or beef" on an airplane and throwing a fit and demanding sushi. Don't be misled, because what some have dubbed "Option 4" is just a one-page suggestion pulled out of thin air. There has been no legal analysis. There has been no engineering analysis. And there is no budget. As far as I know, no one from our town has ever actually talked to anyone from the state about Option 4 before it was so abruptly unveiled.
My understanding is that the state is looking it over to be considerate. But even a quick analysis indicates that Option 4 would cost more and be unworkable. It's already costing all of us additional taxpayer money to examine. But to actually build it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more (conservatively) than the state's preferred Option 3 (closing the parkway). It would also require the removal of many ancient trees and considerable excavation for drainage. Plus, no matter what anyone tells you to win your support, it will require guardrails. You can't put a path between two roads (a danger zone), where a car could slide in at you from either side, without guardrails.
Let's say I'm wrong about all this and the state changes its mind and says, "Eureka! Option 4 is brilliant!" Well, I'll be as shocked as anyone. But would you really look forward to a third strip of acres and acres of asphalt and rows and rows of guardrails that we will have to maintain in addition to the decaying parkway? Nothing about Option 4 (including calling it an option) really makes sense.
Still, maybe we can do better. Thus, 'Enhanced Option 3'
Here's what Enhanced Option 3 would entail: (A). Expanded overlooks allowing for additional parking (for hunters, the physically impaired, etc.), scenic views, and waterfront access; (B) landscaping the center median; (C) removal of invasive species (e.g., buckthorn, which grows into the large bushes that block our view) and restoration of the waterfront to its natural state; (D) expansion of the Big 6 Marina for more public use; (E) installation of safety mechanisms (e.g., speed signs like we have by the high school) and maintenance for the remaining West River road; (F) advocacy for the West River home owners to keep legally permitted docks as well as requesting permits for the many illegal docks where appropriate; (G) advocacy to make that land an official state park so it could never get into the hands of developers; and (H) removal of all or most parking lots from the center median.
How could I pull this off? Well, like I said, instead of yelling at the state I've been trying to respectfully work with them. I think they might listen. And the state's stated preferred option, Option 3 (closing the parkway), is far cheaper than the other options. I think the savings could be used for these additional changes. Also, Enhanced Option 3 would not require some massive engineering overhaul. It would just be, well, an "enhancement" of the hard engineering work already done by the state officials. I promise to advocate for these changes. I promise to fight for Enhanced Option 3.
I'm disappointed, but not disheartened
Since I opened the door to a discussion of the West River issue, I want to get a few things off my chest. First, this type of controversy for a project like this is nothing new. I had a friend recently show me a series of articles on similar projects in other parts of the country and state. It's always the same story: anger and fear followed by slow acceptance and finally enthusiastic embrace. If there is an opposite fact pattern, it's an anomaly.
Please remember, people have been talking about a project for West River for years. But no matter what plan has been put forward, there has been push back. That's why West River still sits as it is, in limbo, covered in weeds and cracking pavement, without any real, public waterfront access besides some unauthorized bonfire pits and beaches on public property behind the weeds.
What's different this time is that I refused to back down, like others had in the past and when it would have been easy to do so. I'm determined to get things done (not just on this project, but others as well), and the unavoidable uncertainty that comes with even positive change after years of stagnation is making some people worried - and even angry.
I'm not troubled by the anger. I'm not even troubled if you disagree with every point I make in this letter. I'm troubled that some people will say whatever terrible thing they can to make me withdraw in fear. And the more I refuse to back down to the bullying, the more hostile the bullying seems to get. Yes, part of being supervisor is that you are subject to criticism. And yes, I have used (and will continue to use) forms of communication (video, podcasts, etc.) that is unfamiliar to some, and I must be careful to not inflame or pander myself. I'm learning. But I hope we could all learn and recommit to communicating in a respectful manner.
I kindly ask the citizens of Grand Island to remember those who have fanned the flames of discontent and controversy and tried to scapegoat public servants for political gain. It's important because some of the most negligent behavior has come from individuals who want to lead you and want you to value their judgment. Specifically, when I am not sitting in a lush West River condo lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills, please remember those who recklessly claimed that (or something like that) was my goal. And when West River is not overcome with gangs of bicycle-riding illegal alien ex-cons, please remember those who claimed something similar might occur. Finally, if West River becomes a beautiful park, full of children and families, you might also want to consider favorably your slightly silly, but well-intentioned supervisor, who did his best to make it happen.
1. I would be remiss if I didn't send kudos out to Vienna Haak for her nonpartisan information booth about the West River bike path at the Taste of Grand Island, where the state presentation of the preferred option was available, traffic counts were laid out and there were two petitions you could sign - one for the repurposing the parkway and one for leaving it open to car traffic. By the way, 63 percent of the people who signed are for the repurposing of the parkway. Thank you, Vienna, for doing your part to dispel some of the misinformation out there. And by the way, how amazing was the Taste of Grand Island? Great job, Corey McGowan - best "Taste" yet!
2. Grand Island is losing our ash trees at an alarming rate. The town has created a task force to determine how best to handle this crisis. The Conservation Advisory Board is hosting an ash borer seminar on Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the Town Hall courtroom, where an expert will discuss options for treatment and removal of your ash trees. At 6:15 p.m., there will be a tour of the Town Commons to see the signs of the disease and the public information seminar starts at 7 p.m. Please consider attending.
3. Fall has arrived and Kelly's Country Store will be celebrating with a Fall Fest on Oct. 8 and 9 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. There will be loads of activities for the whole family - wine tastings, pumpkin patch, delicious food, a farmers market and more! Do not miss it!
Nathan McMurray is Town of Grand Island supervisor.