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West River Parkway closure plan changed again, with possible dire consequences

Sat, Dec 23rd 2017 07:00 am
By Mike Madigan
Town of Grand Island Councilman
At the Dec. 18 Grand Island Town Board meeting, Town Council representatives Ray Billica and Bev Kinney provided a bombshell update on the West River Parkway closure plan, and the update is shocking!
The council members, who represented the town at recent meetings with New York State Parks regarding the parkway closure plan, were told that the eight-mile stretch of the current parkway would not be designated as a public park, contrary to what residents were led to believe by the state, who referenced their plan as involving "public parkland" numerous times since January 2016. (Example: See the Nov. 9, 2016, State Parks memo announcing the decision to close parkway.)
The lack of designation as a public park exposes this eight-mile stretch of prime real estate to future neglect (since it is not a park, it is a lower maintenance priority for the already budget-strapped New York State Parks) and leaves the land vulnerable to future development.
Shockingly, the beautiful pictures and renderings used by the project leader, Mark Thomas (New York State Parks), in November 2016 to sell his parkway closure plan are stripped down and no longer representative of what will actually be constructed due to insufficient funds.
This request for support of one plan and switch to a completely different plan is a repeated unethical action by Thomas. Earlier in 2016, the original plan to place the path between the river and parkway, leaving the parkway open, that was used by Thomas to similarly win strong support by the town and Island residents in 2014 and 2015 was switched out for a plan resulting in the parkway closure that left Island residents in shock and strongly opposed to the plan.
Councilman Billica emphasized that the current plan to not designate the land as a public park can have serious consequences both short and long term and suggested the need to aggressively lobby our state representatives regarding this misguided plan (watch the Dec. 18 board meeting - the last 10 minutes - Ray Billica's warning to the residents about the plan and the need to lobby).
Councilman Billica and Kinney confirmed that the state is committed to push their stripped-down plan to close the parkway with the permanent and irreversible closure of the parkway occurring on April 1, 2018.
Remember that the plan to close the West River Parkway was formally rejected by the GI Town Board (3-2 vote against), and was rejected by over 70 percent of New York state residents during the New York state comment period that ended in August 2016 where respondents were "offered multiple options" (plans) and asked to provide feedback regarding which plan (option) they preferred. In addition, a town hearing in October, that included a survey, reaffirmed this rejection with over 80 percent of respondents strongly opposed to the parkway closure while supporting other multi-use path options (plans). The parkway closure "option" was the only "option" offered that was rejected by the town and New York state residents.
It is apparent that the offering of "options" was a misrepresentation by Thomas, who had already decided, prior to the comment period, that his plan to close the parkway was already the plan that would be progressed - a dishonest and unethical action.
Thomas and New York State Parks has repeatedly used bait-and-switch tactics, misrepresentations and supported attacks on area residents and has completely breached the contractual agreements made with the town and area residents on how the project would be managed. Thomas and others managing this project have breached the trust of the town and it's residents by these actions.
Further, the lack of a park designation significantly reduces the State Park's obligation for appropriate maintenance (designated parks are top priority for the extremely budget-limited New York State Parks). In fact, they continue to cite the current deficient program of two to five cuttings/year, but admit that there is no plan or budget yet for the program, leaving the plan open to revision (switching) after the parkway is irreversibly closed.
The lack of park designation opens this land up and makes it significantly more available to future development. The State Parks will not deny that it continually seeks new revenue opportunities to fund its budget. There is a very real risk that a big political donor armed with an idea and an RFP is all that is required to precipitate yet another switch impacting this prime development location.
The state's complete mismanagement and continued outrageous behavior ignoring and disrespecting our town and its residents should not be accepted.
Our New York state representatives - State Sen. Chris Jacobs and Assemblymen Angelo Morinello - have previously offered to assist in this matter.
At this point, in my opinion, that assistance must involve placing a hold on this project, possibly a permanent hold, replacement of the state project managers and adherence to the established contractual agreements to work with the town in the decision process, design and execution of this project, if it is to be restarted.
Residents should contact our Grand Island New York state representatives to express their opinions on this matter, as suggested by our council representatives, before it is too late!
State Sen. Jacobs: 716-854-8705, [email protected]; and State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello: 716-282-6062, [email protected].

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