Niagara Gazette — A pair of state lawmakers want to place renewed emphasis on waterfront development as part of the Niagara River Greenway plan.
State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and state Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, held a press conference Friday in Black Rock to announce legislation aimed at reforming the way greenway funds are handled in an effort to promote the development of a linear parks system along the Niagara River.
Both lawmakers said they are concerned that Greenway Standing Committees, which determine how funds tied to greenway projects are used, have drifted away from the plan's original intent which was to develop parks and conservation areas linked by multi-use trails along the river from Youngstown to Buffalo.
"The Niagara River Greenway was created with the vision of creating an idyllic set of parks and trails for the region," Grisanti said. "While the greenway has done many good works, it also has sometimes gone awry from its original intent. This legislation seeks to refocus the greenway and help it to refocus on its original intent to ensure that the greenway continues to serve a public benefit to the region."
The Niagara River Greenway Plan was formed by state law in 2004 in an effort to improve the waterfront along the Niagara River.
Funding for greenway projects stems from settlements reached by local school districts and municipalities with the New York Power Authority. About $9 million per year will be set aside for a total of 50 years to advance greenway development efforts.
Both lawmakers, citing a recently released report by the Partnership for the Public Good, noted that the standing committees have spent nearly $50 million since 2004, with roughly $23 million going toward projects that they said do not meet the original greenway plan goals.
Specifically, Grisanti and Ryan noted, the greenway legislation says projects eligible for funding must be within the lands and waters as identified within the "Greenway Focus Area." As the current law stands, both lawmakers said the focus area is more of a suggestion of where projects should be funded, not a set boundary.
Their proposed legislation would require standing committees to approve only projects that advance the greenway plan, while refining the greenway boundaries and definitions of projects that are eligible for funding.
"The focus of the greenway plan has drifted away in recent years, and our legislation is essential to bring the focus back to the original vision of creating a linear system of parks along the Niagara River," Ryan said. "When people see projects miles away from the shoreline being funded, they are perplexed, and wonder why the focus is not on improving the shoreline of the Niagara River. We are proposing simple, common-sense reforms that will guide the Greenway Standing Committees to make good decisions regarding our valuable waterfront."
During Friday's press conference, Grisanti and Ryan were joined by Sam Magavern of the Partnership for the Public Good and Jill Jedlicka from Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. Both Magavern and Jedlicka expressed support for the proposed legislation, which still must be approved by the state legislature.
"We stand at a pivotal point in time - our community is recognizing that more often than not, the relicensing settlement funds are being invested in projects that are not consistent with the spirit and intent of the law, nor the vision of the Niagara Greenway," Jedlicka said.