Photo and article by Terry Duffy
Call it a matter of consistency.
Members of the Niagara River Greenway Commission met Tuesday, May 21, at the Beaver Island State Park Clubhouse to consider three submissions for project consistency with Greenway Plan objectives.
Following a brief series of comments by the public followed by presentations by project submitters, only one - SUNY Buffalo State's Research Foundation for the Emerald Shiner Habitat Conservation and Restoration Study in the Upper Niagara River - met with a unanimous vote of consistency by the Greenway Commission.
Two others - one submitted by Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter for the $9.2 million Lewiston Civic Center, and one by Lewiston-Porter Central School District administrators for its encumbered $6.2 million Phase II Capital Improvement Project - failed, and both by near unanimous votes of "not consistent" by the nine attending Greenway Commission members.
Despite impressive presentations, both by Reiter and Lew-Port, their requests were denied.
Commission Vice Chair Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, who ran the session in place of Greenway Chair Robert J. Kresse, who was absent, essentially spoke the views of all attending members who cast negative votes as he called both proposals "great projects, but not consistent as a Greenway project."
That view seemed to dominate the public commentaries that led off the general meeting. Four spoke on the Civic Center, and unlike the informational sessions orchestrated by center supporters at Lewiston Town Hall, where speaker after speaker came before the Lewiston Town Board in overwhelming enthusiastic support for the project, that wasn't to be the case Tuesday.
Instead, Greenway commissioners heard issues ranging from concerns over the use of reallocated Greenway money to fund the Civic Center; claims of misleading documentation provided by the Town of Lewiston; and arguments that off-river projects such as the two projects considered for the Lew-Port campus were simply not in the Greenway concept.
And Greenway commissioners listening to these, plus comments heard at earlier Greenway meetings held in other locales, such as one at a Niagara Falls citizens action committee meeting where the whole purpose and reason of Greenway was the main topic, appeared in their voting to be more in step in siding with that of supporting the Greenway concept versus that of community benefit.
As noted, three speakers were decidedly against the awarding of Greenway funding, namely for the Civic Center, arguing that it failed to pass the muster of what a Greenway project should be.
•Sanborn resident RoseMary Warren led off those opposed as she questioned the town's request for reallocation of Greenway money awarded for Joseph Davis State Park to the Civic Center. "I feel this is setting a very dangerous precedent," said Warren. "The Joseph Davis State Park project is why this commission even exists, to enhance areas along the Niagara River for everyone to enjoy."
Warren also questioned the town's intent to use the Civic Center for concerts, car shows, trade shows and conventions and retail space, telling the commissioners, "None of this is the Greenway mission."
•Lewiston resident Paulette Glasgow raised a number of issues, including the town requesting Greenway money to be used to construct the Civic Center building and that request not being consistent with the Greenway's mission statement of improving green areas along the waterways; to financial questions, including private funding in the town's construction estimates, to questions over disparities in requesting $430,000 in annual payments over 30 years, totaling $12.9 million, to the town to pay off debt. "All these are inconsistent with the Greenway law, its plan, its funding," said Glasgow.
•Speaker Art Kline of the Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition argued that both Lewiston Greenway proposals "simply do not fall within the Greenway agreement. They're inconsistent," said Kline.
•Lewiston resident Jeff Williams was the lone supporter for the Civic Center, advising the commissioners of his past involvement in the State Power Authority relicensing and host committee process, and opining how he felt the established Greenway doctrine on consistency was vague and that any project could be deemed "consistent and inconsistent."
"Leveraging Greenway money (in projects such as Lewiston's) is what should be done," said Williams. "Lewiston is using this money properly."
But when it was all said and done, Greenway commissioners, in near unanimity, voted against both proposals.
Following the session, Reiter, who likened his appearance before the panel to "being at the dentist's office," said he would be redefining his presentations en route to a future appearance before the Greenway Commission's Host Community Standing Committee.
Lew-Port Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services Don Rappold voiced the same sentiment as he said, "Yes, we'll be appearing again."