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JULY 01 - JULY 09, 2014

State Parks Police Barracks Construction Delayed, While Local Officials "Doth Protest Too Much?"

By James Hufnagel

July 01, 2014

Before: (above) The site of the proposed police barracks before Parks sought to “improve” it.
After:(below) Fifty-two trees were cut down to make way for the police barracks.


In a rare display of bipartisan unanimity, Mayor Paul Dyster, Senator George Maziarz, Assemblyman John Ceretto, Congressman Brian Higgins and the entire Niagara Falls City Council recently came down like a ton of bricks on The New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in opposition to the construction of a new State Parks Police barracks on formerly untouched open space at the top of the Niagara Gorge.

State Parks Western Region director Mark Thomas called a temporary halt to site excavation, but not before the entire area had been turned into an ugly scar on the land, including the felling of 52 mature hardwood trees which have still not been publicly accounted for by the secretive state agency.

The ultimate disposition of the new facility remains unknown at this time, city and state politicians and their counterparts in the State Parks bureaucracy having again retreated behind closed doors to negotiate out of the public view, carrying on the same closeted discussions that led to the debacle in the first place.

The decision on the eventual location of the police barracks remains at best problematic.

Public pronouncements by Thomas last week seemingly left the door open for continuing construction at the present Gorge site.

While most would think it difficult to imagine State Parks resuming work there in the face of public outrage and the expressed disapproval of local officials, on the other hand, it's a rare day that multimillionaire James Glynn, owner of the Maid of the Mist, doesn't get his way with state government when it comes to park "improvements" that benefit his business.

Many believe the situating of the Parks Police building within a few hundred yards of Glynn's new boatyard at the base of the gorge was no accident. Glynn, of course, is not a man who leaves anything to chance. In the event of "trouble" down below, how convenient to have a squadron of law enforcement, trained and experienced in rough terrain like the gorge, near at hand and at your beck and call.

Wouldn't it be great if every business in the city of Niagara Falls had the luxury of a private police force next door, paid for by tax dollars, in close proximity to serve and protect at a moment's notice.

From the taxpayer and ratepayer-funded renovation of the Observation Tower in the Niagara Falls State Park, to the granting of a multi-decade, no-bid contract after his Canadian franchise ignominiously ended, to the ongoing Niagara Falls State Park "Landscape Improvements" which expand parking and tourist throughput for his Maid boat ride, to numerous other considerations and concessions granted Glynn in his pursuit of unchallenged monopolistic control, what's behind the about-face on behalf of our local officials, suddenly and vociferously denying the individual they've refrained from even mildly criticizing for nearly four decades?

We are driven to ask, even as the recriminations fly back and forth, the destruction of the natural viewscape and diminished tourist access to the Niagara Gorge is alleged and decried, and the removal of a section of the north Robert Moses Parkway is being directly contravened, why it seems our leaders are leaving their potentially most potent weapon against this ill-advised construction project unused and, indeed, unmentioned.

To the average layperson, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) isn't very important, but to construction companies, planning boards and regulatory agencies, SEQRA is a big deal.

According to a state government web site, "New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.... This means these agencies must assess the environmental significance of all actions they have discretion to approve, fund or directly undertake."

Practically, that usually means that a project with potentially significant impacts, such as the State Police barracks, must undergo a detailed public process that involves public scoping hearings, written and verbal public comment periods, and preparation of draft and final environmental impact statements. However, if an agency contends that there are no significant impacts, it can issue a "negative declaration", and if that decision is not legally challenged, the project gets the green light.

So if our local politicians were seriously upset over the barracks, they'd demand that State Parks account for their failure to follow the law and enjoin SEQRA. Certainly the environmental impacts have already been huge.

It's interesting to note two waterfront projects over the past years that in fact have been rendered subject to a full SEQRA review: the north and south Robert Moses Parkway projects.

On the other hand, the $40 million Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements plan, the $35 million Maid of the Mist/Schoellkopf boatyard and the controversial State Parks Police barracks, all entailing enormous environmental, economic and social impacts, got negative declarations and were arbitrarily exempted from SEQRA review.

It seems some waterfront projects get scrutinized under SEQRA, while others get a free pass. Depending upon whether a certain multimillionaire campaign contributor has a business interest at stake, no doubt.





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