By Terry Duffy
Reclaim Niagara announced this week it has teamed up with the national online petition organization Change.org in a new attempt to present its issues and build support from the community to right "what's wrong" in Niagara Falls.
"We have a new and improved petition!" Reclaim Niagara revealed this week on its Facebook page. "Our petition has changed, but our message has not!"
According to its website, reclaimniagara.com, the group is part of "a growing movement of citizens dedicated to exposing the injustices faced by Niagara Falls due to the exploitation of our resources by public authorities and state entities."
Its organizers include Pat Proctor of Rainbow Air Inc.; Falls city firefighter Jason Cafarella - an attorney and former Niagara County legislator; and Shawn Weber, part owner of Wine on Third and owner of the Jefferson Apartments. They are determined to expedite change for the Cataract City.
"For decades, this city has suffered from abject poverty. Our roads, parks, neighborhoods, business districts and infrastructure continue to decline at an alarming rate, yet the public authorities and state entities we host reap incredible profits at our expense," Reclaim Niagara said. "Our mission is to hold these entities accountable and open dialogue about how the generations of injustices can be corrected to help make our city viable and sustainable for the future."
Change.org has its focus on presenting a host of personal, local and regional concerns to a global audience with the intent of effecting change. Widely acclaimed in national media, Change.org serves as yet another means for discussion and to garner support toward "change" from the masses via online petitions. Its latest topics include the Orlando shootings, gun rights, the 2016 elections, immigration, racial injustice, Supreme Court issues, sexual assault and veterans' issues.
"Change.org has quickly become one of the most influential tools for online activism," proclaims US News and World Report on the Change.org website.
"We need to unify our voice and Reclaim Niagara," its organizers state. "We need the state to make us real partners in valuable resources in our own backyard. Please take a moment to sign it and spread the word! The status quo can only change if we work together to change it."
With its new online petition link, Reclaim Niagara seeks to further enlighten Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Albany legislators to what its organizers said is New York's long-standing acceptance of management procedures that continue to negatively impact the Cataract City.
Among Reclaim Niagara's complaints:
•Reclaim Niagara argues the New York Power Authority, with operations in Lewiston, operates at a substantial profit. However, Reclaim Niagara said that, unlike earlier electrical operators, NYPA provides very little in terms of actual tax money or benefits to Niagara Falls.
"The Niagara Power Company was once a privately owned company that paid city property tax," Reclaim Niagara stated. "At one point, the taxes paid by this private company contributed to 40 percent of our city's budget. Now, the New York Power Authority operates a larger, more profitable power project, yet pays no real estate tax to our city."
•Reclaim Niagara said the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, which manages the Lewiston-Queenston, Rainbow and Nexus bridges, works for profit, but offers little in terms of financial benefit to the Falls. Reclaim Niagara said the NFBC provides millions in benefits to the Province of Ontario, but fails to do the same for Niagara Falls.
•Reclaim Niagara stated the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, operators of Niagara Falls State Park, which generates millions in profits for state coffers, also returns little to the Cataract City.
•Reclaim Niagara stated the Seneca Niagara Hotel & Casino, which, by state agreement operates on city lands bestowed by New York to the Seneca Nation, only returns 25 percent of its profits to City of Niagara Falls operations.
"Like it or not, the city has been very financially vested in the casino. First, our city gave up very valuable property to the Senecas for the development of the casino. Then the city provides infrastructure and public safety for the patrons," Reclaim Niagara said. "Importantly, it is quite possible that the casino actually hurt local tax paying businesses, because local businesses cannot compete with the tax-free casino eateries and bars inside. What has the state sacrificed to justify their share of their casino money?"
•Speaking on the Love Canal legacy, Reclaim Niagara said, "We all know of the health problems that the Love Canal has caused our innocent residents. After the Love Canal was remediated, our city was left with a huge area of vacant lots and dilapidated housing. These were once robust neighborhoods of middle-class tax-paying residents. Yet, the state swooped in and stole the Love Canal proceeds without any thought towards rebuilding our destroyed neighborhoods."
Urging citizen action via the change.org online petition, Reclaim Niagara said, "We are no longer satisfied with the status quo."
"Join us as we ask questions that have not been asked in generations. Stand with us to demand the answers that we deserve. Fight alongside us to correct the injustices that we suffer.
"It's time to Reclaim Niagara! Join us as we fight for our fair share!"
Launched Wednesday, the new Reclaim Niagara petition has seen modest response thus far from the community.
For more information, visit Reclaim Niagara on Facebook or via the website at www.reclaimniagara.com.