By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
As work on converting the West River Parkway into the West River Connector Trail began April 16, residents long opposed to the parkway closure went to Town Hall for one last-ditch effort to keep it open.
Opponents of West River Parkway closure blasted the government at Monday's Town Board meeting, and in particular Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray, who was in the forefront of promoting the $2.5 million project that will turn the two-lane parkway into a vehicle-free multi-use trail from Beaver Island State Park to Buckhorn State Park.
The Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation is combining a $1.6 million federal transportation grant and $900,000 from the New York Power Authority and the Niagara River Greenway to fund the project.
Frank Greco of 3073 West River Road, president of the West River Homeowners Association and a member of the town Planning Board, said "Today, New York Parks closed the West River Parkway, and while I was looking out the window today, I wondered all those years I paid gasoline taxes for what? So that 40 bicycle people can take over the highway."
Meanwhile, Greco said, all the commuters from Staley Road were whizzing by "going at a high speed."
Councilman Mike Madigan later in the meeting said that McMurray prevented the formal participation of the Town of Grand Island in the State Environmental Quality Review process by withholding from the board documents sent by the state. Greco asked the board to request that the town attorney investigate "the irregularities that occurred or didn't occur in performing the SEQR" and that the Department of Transportation do a traffic study "and in the meantime reopen the road."
Rose Bugman of Whitehaven Road noted the WRHOA was the first group in the state to form an adopt-a-highway program. She said, "We had a flawed traffic study, which did not include any of the access roads, which should be repeated."
"We have been ignored. I am devastated," Bugman said. "I wish that you had respected us from the very beginning, and unfortunately it's been a stonewall from the beginning."
She called the result "very devastating for all of us."
Dick Garlapow of West River Road said, "Like the majority of people that live on Grand Island here, I'm totally in favor of the bike path to be built the way it was originally designed and presented to the Greenway Commission in the way the plans were presented when the federal government came up with the money for it, which had nothing to do with closing the road."
Pat Akinbami of West River Road asked the board to respect democracy, saying, "In a democracy, I think it's important that process be followed religiously. That's what sets us apart from bad governments, and I think that process has not been served in this case. It looks like special interests have prevailed and our public officials have not stood up for us."
In the end, the board took no action on an item Madigan placed on the agenda, which was called "Public notification of violations by New York State Parks and the town supervisor."
McMurray said, "I should have suspected one desperate last grasp, because the road is actually closed, and some desperate maneuver. You saw that tonight where they're making these wild accusations."
Deputy Supervisor Jim Sharpe said the parkway closure opponents' goal in the meeting was to get the Town Board to have the town attorney represent them "with the public's tax dollar to fund their battle."
"(Madigan) continues to use our attorney to fund his private lawsuit," McMurray said of Madigan. "If there's a violation of law, that's the violation of law."
The SEQR argument by parkway closure opponents is "nonsensical," McMurray said. "This thing passes SEQR not by a little, by a lot. We're not talking about an oil refinery. We're not talking about a garbage dump or something. We're talking about a bike path."
The next regular meeting of the Grand Island Town Board will be at 8 p.m. Monday, May 7, in Grand Island Town Hall, 2255 Baseline Road.
Grand Island Town Board
Supervisor: Nathan McMurray
Council members: Jennifer Baney, Pete Marston, Bev Kinney and Mike Madigan