Greenway Commission rules Lewiston projects ‘consistent’
By Joshua Maloni
Two large Village of Lewiston projects are one step closer to receiving sizable funding from the New York Power Authority.
On Tuesday, nine members of the Niagara River Greenway Commission voted both the Mason’s Mission Playground at Marilyn Toohey Park and the Veterans of Foreign Wars “Circle of Honor” consistent with the Greenway Plan. The two Town of Lewiston-sponsored projects will now be considered for funding from the Host Communities Standing Committee.
Mason’s Mission Playground
Village of Lewiston Engineer Michael Marino presented the playground plan, which is designed to welcome children of all ability levels. The venture is expected to cost upward of $700,000. A request was made for $200,000 in Greenway funding.
“In the formulation of this project, I think we’ve come up with something that actually does support the Greenway’s vision, goals and principles,” Marino said. “The project does improve access, and makes connections; it helps to protect and restore environmental systems. We’ve incorporated that into the design. It celebrates the history and heritage of the area, and the greenway, and it promotes long-term sustainability.”
Village of Lewiston Mayor Anne Welch, Mason’s Mission founder Jason Evchich, community advocate RoseMary Warren and Town of Lewiston resident Lee Simonson spoke in favor of the playground. Additionally, Jo Johnson of the Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition said her watchdog group was in favor of this project receiving a consistent vote.
The playground, Johnson explained, “provides free outdoor recreational space within the greenway.”
She further stated her group “recommends (the addition of) age-appropriate educational signage regarding the Niagara River, the greenway, its natural resources and stewardship, as this is for the next generation. The (village) should consider including an educational pollinator garden or some other form of outdoor learning opportunities alongside the playground.”
The inclusive play area will be built behind the Red Brick Municipal Building, adjacent to the Onondaga Trail, and bordering a proposed bike path.
Greenway Commissioner Lynn Marinelli (representing Empire State Development) asked if bicycle racks could be added, while Commissioner Mark Mistretta (New York State Parks) requested the inclusion of educational/interpretive signage. Commissioner Samuel Magavern (citizens advisory committee) said those elements, as well as a pollinator or native gardens, are necessary if the project is to receive funding. Mistretta agreed.
Marino said the playground plan would incorporate the commissioners’ suggestions.
Welch has said her goal is to have the playground built and open this summer. Additional project monies are expected to come from private donations and government grants.
‘Circle of Honor’
Simonson quarterbacked the “Circle of Honor” proposal, with additional information provided by VFW members Vince Canosa and Bill Justyk. He said, “Our memorial will not only serve as a destination, but as an important element in preserving and promoting the Greenway (Commission’s) mission to celebrate and interpret our cultural and heritage resources.”
The “Circle of Honor” proposal calls for a complete makeover of the existing memorial area inside Academy Park. Included will be new honor stones – one of which will house an eternal flame – as well as a stone circular base with a map of the world, and a bronze eagle. The components will sit level, thus providing greater accessibility.
Downriver Post No. 7487 seeks $100,000, which is half of the total project cost. The remaining funds are expected to come from private donations. “Circle of Honor” commemorative coins also are available for purchase.
“Nothing commemorates or interprets our heritage resources better than a memorial that honors veterans from the greenway. And this memorial will list them by name,” Simonson said.
Mistretta said the “Circle of Honor” would be an asset to Academy Park, which is a “key piece of the greenway.”
Canosa said the VFW would consider adding a bike rack. Magavern asked if educational/interpretive signage could be worked into the design. Simonson suggested such markers would take away from the solemnity of the site. Welch said Academy Park – once fully renovated – would likely have new signage detailing its offerings, as well as greenway components.
Construction on the “Circle of Honor” is slated to begin this year.
The Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition’s Johnson said her group opposed this project proposal, as NREC doesn’t favor the use of funding for what she called “statuary.”
The Lewiston groups communicated their materials to some familiar faces on the Greenway Commission. Vice Chairman Richard Soluri was a four-term Village of Lewiston mayor, while Treasurer Sean Edwards served on the Town of Lewiston Council, and Commissioner Steve Broderick is Town of Lewiston supervisor.
Lou Paonessa (New York Power Authority), Christopher Bauer (New York State Department of State) and Ron Hayes (New York State Department of Transportation) also voted in favor of the projects.
Prior to the applicant pitches, Greenway Executive Director Gregory Stevens provided an update on the Greenway Plan’s progress. He said, “We’re quite excited that, by September of 2019, our greenway shoreline trail will have arrived and been upgraded pretty much all the way from the Outer Harbor in Buffalo, where it begins in the Buffalo Harbor State Park, (to Lewiston). … We are going to have, certainly by 2020, a trail like none of us have ever seen before: A continuous, off-road, safe, multiuse trail, averaging 12 feet wide, from one end of the Niagara River right to the Village of Lewiston.
“The next big question will be how do we go north from Lewiston and embrace our shoreline all the way up to Fort Niagara and around Lake Ontario.”
The Greenway Commission is a public benefit corporation established by Chapter 460 of the New York state laws of 2004, and charged with the planning and development of a greenway of interconnected parks, river access points and waterfront trails along the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario at Fort Niagara.
Its Greenway Plan began in 2007 with a mission, “To restore the ecological health of the Niagara River and enhance public access for all, while enhancing the development of world-renowned scenic, natural, historic, cultural and recreational resources of the Niagara River Corridor.”
NYPA agreed to provide $450 million in funding over 50 years as part of its relicensing agreement for the Niagara Power Project.
In Niagara County, the Host Community Standing Committee annually receives $3 million. Members qualifying for a share of this money include the City of Niagara Falls, the Town of Lewiston, the Town of Niagara, Niagara County, and the Lewiston-Porter, Niagara Falls and Niagara-Wheatfield school districts.
Simonson, a former Niagara County Legislature chairman, was part of the team that negotiated the Greenway Plan. He said, “The playground is more than 100 percent consistent.”
He explained, “In the process of getting the relicense, FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) only had two criteria, in terms of an agreement with the community … the two criteria were recreation and environment. … It was just recreation and environment to get the relicensing for the Power Authority.”
Of the “Circle of Honor,” Simonson said, “What makes the greenway so special, so valuable to our region, it’s not just about the paths and trails that traverse the river. It’s about the connections the greenway makes between the destinations and the attractions, sights and activities that give people a reason to visit the greenway in the first place.”
Pictured reviewing the Mason’s Mission Playground at Marilyn Toohey Park proposal are, from left, Greenway Commission members Steve Broderick, Lou Paonessa, Mark Mistretta, Sean Edwards and Richard Soluri.