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Higgins requests data on expenditure of waterfront development funding

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Mon, May 1st 2017 12:10 pm

Approaching halfway mark, congressman says it is important for public to know how resources have been spent & what remains of NYPA federal relicensing settlement

Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, is asking Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. (ECHDC) to provide a full accounting of the expenditure of funding provided for Buffalo waterfront development through the federal relicensing settlement with the New York Power Authority. Higgins made the formal request in a letter to ECHDC in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The Niagara Power Project was created by federal law in 1957 with the primary intent of supporting economic development and residents in Western New York.

NYPA's 50-year federal license for the Niagara Power Project was set to expire Aug. 31, 2007.

In 2005, Higgins fought for and won a $279 million, 50-year federal relicensing settlement with NYPA, which hasfunded Buffalo's waterfront development.

In 2006, Higgins called for the creation of a locally controlled board to make decisions regarding Buffalo's waterfront future, which led to the establishment of ECHDC. In 2009, working with NYPA and then-Gov. David Patterson, Higgins renegotiated the settlement to expedite and enhance the waterfront funding stream provided under the 2007 agreement. This allowed for larger annual payments over a 20-year period rather than on a 50-year timeline.

Higgins said, "The NYPA settlement was a hard-fought battle, which gave this community more than the Power Authority wanted to provide, but less than this community deserved. It provides a finite sum of resources for the long-overdue redevelopment of Buffalo's waterfront. While we have accomplished much over the last several years, there is still a great deal to do to keep the momentum going. Today, we are more than eight years into a 20-year settlement and, as we reach the halfway point, it is vital for the community to know how their resources have been spent and what remains so we, as a community, can make the best decisions moving forward."

Last week, the Buffalo News reported a lawsuit over a construction dispute involving ECHDC has resulted in $2.67 million in legal fees. With the case headed to trial in 2018, it is expected that number will continue to grow.

Higgins said recent reports of millions in expenses related to the lawsuit raises additional questions and further prompts the need for public transparency.

"Dealings like this lawsuit are a distraction from the work that still needs to be done," he said. "The public deserves to know who is paying these legal fees. Is the state bearing the costs or is it coming out of NYPA settlement funds intended to support public waterfront improvements?"

Earlier this month, Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan called on ECHDC to move forward with construction of Canalside Hall, a component of the Canalside 2013 master plan that would feature dining options "designed to embrace Buffalo's rich old and new food culture." Higgins said the restaurant component, planned to go into a portion of the now-cavernous Aud Block, is a critical missing piece essential to enhancing the public experience at Canalside.

The NYPA settlement, secured by Higgins, has funded much of the progress at Canalside and along the Outer Harbor. Examples of settlement-funded projects include: the Central Wharf along the Inner Harbor, which first opened in 2008; Wilkeson Pointe along the Outer Harbor; Buffalo Lighthouse rehabilitation; East canals completed in 2013; Gallagher Beach improvements; the bicycle ferry landing; Clinton's Dish; Central Wharf expansion and Canalside sandy play area; lighting on the grain elevators; and $9 million toward construction of the building that will be home to Explore and More Children's Museum.

In addition to NYPA settlement funding, since 2008, Higgins has secured more than $120 million in federal funding toward projects in and around Buffalo's waterways.

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