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Apr 29 - May 07, 2014

Saratoga Springs Reaps Big Rewards From Niagara Falls State Park Project

April 29, 2014

Kirsten Anthony

There's a rotten going stench descending on Niagara Falls State Park, and the wind is blowing in from the east, specifically from the affluent Albany suburb of Saratoga Springs, a town best known as home of prestigious Travers Stakes horse racing event, and a place where polo and golf supplant football and basketball as the local high school's premier sports programs.

The awful odor was accompanied by a number of individuals from Saratoga Springs, including Stephen McCorkle, a state parks landscape architect, his wife, Lisa Tonnelson McCorkle, also a landscape architect now working for a private firm known as the LA Group, and Kirsten Anthony, who used to work for the LA Group, then another Saratoga Springs area company called Champlain Stone and now at the state parks, under Stephen McCorkle. The Saratoga group, lured by the prospect of $40 million loose taxpayer dollars tied to a vague plan to "improve" the state park, descended on the Falls like vultures to the carcass of a dead deer already picked over by coyotes.

Forty million dollars is $40 million, after all, and even the well-heeled residents of Saratoga Springs can spot an easy mark when they see one. So it went like this: State Parks employee Stephen McCorkle hires his wife's company to design plans, for $4.5 million, and in violation of State Parks policy, who, in turn offers a sole-source contract to Champlain Stone, where their friend Kirsten Anthony used to work, to supply more than $1 million worth of Corinthian Granite pavers knowing that the Saratoga Springs area quarry operated by Champlain is the sole provider of that type of stone. Sole source contracting isn't simply a violation of some departmental policy but a violation of the law, specifically New York State Finance Law, 163, which forbids sole source bidding.

A fat, $4.5 million contract for Tonnelson McCorkle's LA Group and a $1 million contract for their friends at Champlain Stone, handed out on a no-bid basis by Stephen McCorkle, a state employee who is married to one of the women and knows many of the Saratoga players., according to records easily found on the internet, on a social basis. This isn't the first time Niagara Falls residents have witnessed a friends and family plan such as McCorkle's, but it may be the first time that the schemers traveled from as far away as the wealthy enclave of Saratoga Springs. Generally, such scams are home grown propositions.

Niagara Falls State Park suddenly got paved over in expensive granite.
Interestingly, original specifications for the paving stones to be used in the park improvement project called for them to be made of limestone, which occurs naturally here and is ubiquitous throughout the Niagara Frontier. Who changed the requirement to mandate Corinthian granite is unclear, but parks workers who talked to the Niagara Falls Reporter under the condition of anonymity said a worse choice of material would be impossible to make. Unlike the inexpensive and plentiful limestone, which is porous and somewhat roughly textured, the ultra expensive Corinthian granite has a glossy, almost glasslike surface that is extremely slippery when wet, which it will be pretty much all the time given the constant mist and spray given off by the mighty Cataracts.

Also slipping are voter approval ratings of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A Sienna College poll released last week shows his approval shrinking for the third straight month, good news for the Republicans and the ultra left Working Families Party, which both showed corresponding increases in popularity. The poll showed that voters across New York overwhelmingly disagree with Cuomo's decision to disband a commission that he had appointed to investigate corruption in state government.

During its brief existence, the commission primarily uncovered the misdeeds of sitting Democrats in the state Assembly and elsewhere. The United States Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, criticized what he called the "premature end" of the commission, and 61 percent of New York State voters polled by Siena agreed. The discontent with Mr. Cuomo's decision crossed party lines. "A majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents think that the U.S. prosecutor is right, not the governor, that the commission should have been able to continue investigating corruption," said Steven A. Greenberg, a Siena College pollster.

Cuomo's popularity has been slowly but steadily slipping since January, when it stood at 66 percent in the Siena poll. Had Cuomo not dissolved his anticorruption commission, it almost certainly would have been interested in the McCorkles of Saratoga Springs, their friends and various business connections.





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