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By James Hufnagel

Two months ago, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation unveiled its $25 million, 92-page plan for the “rehabilitation” of Niagara Falls State Park.

State Parks tries hard with this new plan to address bitter public criticism and non-stop drubbing in the local press over the past decade with respect to its stewardship of the park. There are aspects of the plan which should bring gladness to the heart of all who dream of restoring natural surroundings to the falls, including the introduction of native plant species and renovation of the pedestrian bridges of Goat Island in the style called for by the original Olmsted plan.
“It’s a park.”
“No, it’s a parking lot.”
“It’s an Olmsted park!”
“No, it’s an Olmsted parking lot.”
The Niagara Falls State Park has veered far from Olmsted’s all-green plan. Gov. Cuomo’s $25M plan will not change that.

While it's clear that State Parks is responding to some long-standing complaints about the state's disregard, neglect and exploitation of the world-famous tourist attraction, for the most part the proposal is just more of what we've come to expect from Albany.

It's clear Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nothing but contempt for Niagara County. After taking office, he summarily killed a $100 million NYPA economic development package proposed for Niagara County. Buffalo had previously received $300 million under the same initiative. These funds were intended to partially compensate the region for the raw deal we got from Pataki and Bush on the Niagara Power Project re-licensing. NYPA chair Richie Kessel repeatedly assured Niagara County leaders that our windfall was in the works. That's right, coming any day now. Then Cuomo got elected and the $100 million went poof.

It wasn't long before Cuomo came up with another brilliant idea for promoting the economic vitality of Niagara Falls : Ship in radioactive frack water for "treatment" and discharge into the Niagara River.

Cuomo has worked overtime figuring out new and imaginative ways to punish Niagara County for the 66.46 percent of voters who supported Buffalo developer Carl Paladino over him in the race for governor. Somehow Niagara Falls State Park flew under his radar, that is until now.

Like previous administrations, the current Cuomo crowd had been perfectly happy with the status quo for Niagara Falls State Park . A park that morphed over the past 50 years from a nature preserve into an industrial tourism operation that funnels millions of dollars to Albany every year, while the people of the city next door sank deeper into poverty, a per capita poverty ranking it among the poorest of northeastern US cities.

Eight million tourists every year drive on a dedicated parkway into Niagara Falls State Park, park on one of 1,200 parking spaces, eat at state-contracted Delaware North food stands, plug quarters into coin-operated binoculars, squeeze in like sardines for a 15 minute boat ride, purchase souvenirs at the Observation Tower gift shop and then exit the park on the same road without setting foot or spending a dollar in the city of Niagara Falls.

If you want to know the source of the grinding poverty, high crime rate, decaying housing base and lack of economic opportunity here, reread the previous sentence.

Does Albany own the New York harbor or Buffalo harbor, or the shorelines of Rochester and Syracuse ? The waterfront parks of charming Finger Lakes towns like Geneva , Ithaca , Hammondsport or Watkins Glen? No! So where the hell does it get its sense of entitlement to our parkland, which was supposed to be Frederick Law Olmsted's legacy to the people of Niagara Falls ?

The term "cash cow" is defined by Investopedia as a business entity that "requires little investment capital and perennially provides positive cash flows, which can be allocated to other divisions within the corporation."

That's how Albany managed the park for years. Large cash flow, little investment. Then last year, a tsunami of shame swept over the caretakers of the park. It seems a New York Times travel writer happened to mention in an article that the park appeared, gasp, "shabby." That galvanized the Cuomo administration and State Parks to come up with the "Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements Plan," dated April 18, 2012. The release of the document was not reported by the Buffalo News or Niagara Gazette, though they covered State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey's visit here to announce the $25 million of Niagara Greenway funds that are to pay for its implementation. Not a single public hearing or public comment period was held before or during the creation of this detailed 92-page plan.

Harvey's introductory letter states, "The park is a huge asset to the western New York economy." Actually, it's a huge asset to Albany 's economy. Note the small "w" on "western." It's reminiscent of her predecessor, fellow down state native Carol Ash's propensity for referring to both Niagara Falls and Niagara County as " Niagara ."

The $25 million in Greenway funds, which Cuomo and Harvey are ballyhooing practically as a personal gift from them, our generous Albany benefactors, will be spent on park infrastructure to benefit New York State's economy, not Niagara County's, in contradiction of the mission of the Niagara Greenway.

For example, new railings, new benches, new paving ("hardscape to meet patron loading requirements"), new drainage systems, new street lights, new curbing, new "native boulders," new trolley stops, a new concession’s plaza for Delaware North, all paid for with your Greenway dollars to enhance Albany 's cash flow.

The plan also details future "capital investments to rehabilitate public facilities in other areas of the park, such as the Visitor Center, Discovery Center... the public trolley system, park signage and lighting, and automobile, bus and pedestrian entrances to the park; and rehabilitation projects to modernize the park’s utilities and infrastructure including roadways, parking areas, and water, electric, and wastewater systems.

It all sounds pretty good, don’t you think?

Let's all move there!



Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 19 , 2012