By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
After learning the state had rejected the latest proposed option for the West River Connector Trail, Town Councilman Mike Madigan vowed to continue opposing the state's preferred option that would close West River Parkway.
The Grand Island Town Board received a letter from Mark Thomas, Western District director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, rejecting Option 5 for the trail, an option proposed by Island resident Bonnie FitzGerald and supported by Madigan and Councilman Ray Billica. The state's preferred Option 3 would convert the road into a multi-modal trail, while closing the West River Parkway to vehicular traffic. FitzGerald's Option 5 would keep the parkway open, but "Share the Road" by closing it to vehicles on weekends.
Madigan was unaware of Thomas' letter until it was brought up at the meeting when Supervisor Nathan McMurray read it. The board had received the letter just that day.
Madigan said after the meeting he hadn't seen the letter, and he called the way the final decision transpired "underhanded in the worst way," pointing his finger at Mark Thomas.
McMurray said when the letter came in Monday, he directed his executive assistant Cyndy Montana to put it councilmembers' mailboxes.
Thomas wrote, "One of the primary objectives of the trail grant application was to create an improved Greenway corridor with connections to the north and south. Creating a park atmosphere between Beaver Island and Buckhorn to replace the existing highway atmosphere would accomplish this objective. If Option 5 were selected, the parkway would remain a vehicle use roadway and New York State Department of Transportation would retain maintenance responsibilities. Residents have overwhelmingly expressed a desire for a more consistent and improved appearance that would resemble a park versus a highway. Option 3 is the only option reviewed that places maintenance responsibilities with State Parks. The highly competitive grant secured to facilitate this program was conditioned on providing a dedicated alternative transportation option. Option 5 would only meet that goal less than 29 percent of the time. As a result, New York State Parks continues to believe that total conversion of a highway system into an eight mile riverfront park is the highest and best use of this property and consistent with the national trend toward connecting people with their waterfront."
The Share the Road option was first proposed by West River Road resident Bonnie FitzGerald. She presented her concept at a Town Board meeting in October. FitzGerald said Tuesday she was "very disappointed but not surprised" by the letter from Thomas.
Madigan said the data strongly suggests Option 3 could result in additional accidents.
"And I think it's worth continuing the fight," Madigan said, given the safety factors. "So I'm going to continue to press this. I don't think it's right."
FitzGerald said that though State Parks agreed to do a comprehensive study concerning Option 5 and her Share the Road plan, "It was just lip service."
"It's apparent to me that this is a 'Close the Parkway Project,' cloaked as a bike path," Madigan added. "It's not a bike path. This has nothing to do with the bike path, never did."
FitzGerald said State Parks "had no intention of doing any study. They have already spent more than half of the money over the last 2 1/2 years with consulting and engineering fees. So if they have spent more than half of the grant money how much work do you think is ever really going to get done?"
FitzGerald further said she had heard word that "our future is the same as the Robert Moses multi-use path that runs from the Rainbow Bridge to Devil's Hole State Park. They are going to close it and abandon it. There is no money in the budget to do what was proposed and no money to maintain it.
"Fifteen years ago the residents of DeVeaux were given the same beautiful sketches of what the proposed scenic bike path would look like to get everyone on board with the closing of the parkway. I urge every Grand Island resident to take a ride down the road that parallels the bike path. That is our future."
She said, "They will not cut the grass or trim the trees so that you can actually see the river. They will abandon us."
Opponents of the parkway closure did not feel abandoned by three of the five board members. FitzGerald praised Grand Island councilmen Madigan, Ray Billica and Chris Aronica, saying they "had the courage to stand with the residents of West River. It was hard at times especially with the mudslinging and personal attacks that came from the opposition. We thank them for their efforts and hope to have their continued support moving forward."
FitzGerald advised West River homeowners to stop cutting the grass and trimming the trees, as many have done over the years. "Let's remind everyone what this place would really look like without us," she said.
The Thomas letter meant the deliberation over the West River Connector Trail had reached the end of the road for some, but just the latest obstacle for others.
"It's been the end of the road for a long time," McMurray said. "They're designing."
"They've bent over backwards to do additional analysis," McMurray said of State Parks. "The project is happening."
"This battle is not over. We, the West River Home Owners, have hired an attorney to go after the state in our behalf," FitzGerald said.
Board to charge late fee for dog licenses
In a memo to the Town Board, Councilman Ray Billica and Town Clerk Patricia Frentzel wrote, "There has been a substantial increase in the number of delinquent dog licenses over the last year or so. In an effort to avoid significant staff time that is required to follow up on the delinquencies for the owners of the dogs, a late fee is requested to be placed on each license 30 days after the renewal date has passed."
"Several towns in WNY have a late fee and it has proven to be an effective tool to reduce the number of delinquencies in their towns," Billica and Frentzel wrote.
The request is a late fee of $10 per license.
The next regular meeting of the Grand Island Town Board will be at 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19, in Grand Island Town Hall, 2255 Baseline Road.
Grand Island Town Board