Niagara Gazette

Local News

November 29, 2011

State parks official discusses Robert Moses Parkway

NIAGARA FALLS — A top state parks official said Monday his office will work with city officials to identify areas in need of maintenance or cleaning along the northern section of the Robert Moses Parkway and the Niagara Gorge Rim.

During a presentation to the city council at City Hall, Mark Thomas, regional director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, agreed to schedule a series of on-site inspections that would allow his cleanup crews to see for themselves specific areas along the parkway and the gorge where city lawmakers say things are not being maintained or cleaned to a high enough standard.

“I don’t understand why we are part of one of the most beautiful areas in the world and we’re not keeping this area clean,” said Councilwoman Kristen Grandinetti, who complained to Thomas about what she described as the sub-par condition of the gorge trail system, which is maintained by state parks.

Council Chairman Sam Fruscione asked Thomas to put more emphasis on general upkeep of parkland near the gorge, suggesting overgrowth has detracted from the attractiveness of the area in general and from the view for residents who live adjacent to the parkway in DeVeaux.

“It’s actually embarrassing after awhile because you just can’t see,” Fruscione said.

Thomas said state parks crews regularly clean up and maintain the areas in question, but acknowledged it is a never-ending job that can always be improved. He suggested state parks does the best it can with the resources it has, noting that his staff has been reduced by 30 percent since he became regional director four years ago. Thomas indicated that state parks is in the process of making improvements to other areas of the local state parks system, including landscaping renovations which are scheduled to take place at Three Sisters Island and Goat Island in the coming year. He said the railing system at Niagara Falls State Park is also scheduled to be upgraded. Thomas indicated a willingness to work with the city to better address areas of concern and suggested the joint, on-site inspections would be a good first step.

“We’ve worked together on a number of projects and I think we can find a way to address some of those concerns you have as well,” Thomas told the council.

City lawmakers also expressed concern about construction work that was performed recently by the New York State Department of Transportation along the northern section of the parkway, which is being examined as part of an ongoing scoping process aimed at determining whether the roadway should be reconfigured, left alone or, perhaps, removed altogether. Earlier this year, the DOT and state parks advanced work on a $1.48 million parkway improvement project from Main Street to just north of the overpass linking the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center with the Aquarium of Niagara. The project resumed less than four months after state parks officials held an open house to seek public input on six alternate plans for the future use of the parkway.

 On Monday, Thomas told the council the project actually started in 2001, but lingered for the past 10 years due to a conflict in the one-way street patterns downtown and a lack of funding from the state. Thomas said the traffic patterns downtown have since been changed and the funding became available in 2010, allowing the project to finally move forward. He said state parks and the DOT determined the project was necessary to allow for continued direct access to the Gorge Discovery Center.

“Regardless of how anything turns out in terms of the scoping process with design changes in the parkway, that roadway has to be in place to service that facility,” Thomas said.

Fruscione asked if it might have been better for state parks to devote funds from the construction project to removal of the parkway and asked Thomas if he thought, as some has suggested, the removal job could be done for as little as $4 million.

Thomas said he thinks the job would cost substantially more.

“I don’t think it would be anything close to that, councilman,” Thomas said. “I think it would be a much higher number to remove that parkway.”

Grandinetti asked Thomas about what she described as the “amazing” Seneca Street parkway entrance that “magically appeared” in Lewiston earlier this year despite the ongoing scoping process. The entrance was added to accommodate traffic from the Tuesday in the Park summer concert series at Artpark. Thomas told Grandinetti the decision was made by state parks in consultation with officials from the town and village of Lewiston. He said the project cost about $15,000 and the work was performed by state parks because the entrance cut across state park land.

As for the future of the northern parkway section, Thomas said the scoping process is continuing and it is hoped at least three alternatives will be presented as part of the final results which are expected to be completed and published in February. Thomas stressed that funds are still needed to allow state parks and its partners, including the city and the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp., to advance any specific recommendation for reconfiguring the parkway. Because those dollars are not yet in place, Thomas said there’s no firm timeframe for parkway reconfiguration of any kind at this point.

“We are not at a place where we have consultants under contract, nor do we have funding in place for those later stages,” Thomas said.

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