By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins wants the New York Power Authority to pay for the removal of the Robert Moses Parkway.
Using the Niagara Gorge as a backdrop while standing in front of an elevated section of the parkway near the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, the Buffalo Democrat, whose Congressional district now includes the city of Niagara Falls, announced plans to seek $120 million from the power authority to finance removal efforts along the northern and southern parkway sections.
Higgins described the "poorly utilized roadway" as both a physical and economic barrier to the "renaissance" of Niagara Falls while suggesting that the authority should pay for the implementation of community based removal plans.
"We believe that will unleash the extraordinary potential of Niagara Falls, N.Y. as a great waterfront city drawing those millions of people who visit Niagara Falls, Canada every single year," Higgins said.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is expected later this month to reveal its recommended options for the future of the northern section. A consultant working with state parks presented for public review a total of six options for the roadway, including leave it as is and total removal from the Falls to Lewiston.
The southern section has been eyed for several changes aimed at making it more pedestrian friendly and less of an obstacle to waterfront access.
Higgins stopped short of endorsing any specific project, saying he'll support whatever the community decides on both sections, while adding that the key to any plan is the money needed to carry it out.
He said only $5 million is currently available for the south section redesign - too little to carry out the actual construction. The $120 million request by his office represented an estimate of what he believes will be needed to make the sort of progress on renewal efforts that believes the city needs and deserves.
"This is something that's very doable," Higgins said.
The congressman called on the authority to finance the effort because he said it "certainly" has the resources to "make it happen."
The Niagara Power Project in Lewiston has been "key" to the authority's profitability, according to Higgins who said more than $1 billion from the facility has been used in the past six years to fund operations elsewhere within the authority's system. In 2008 alone, Higgins said the authority had a surplus of $309 million, of which $236 million, or 76 percent, came from the Niagara facility.
"We have a rightful claim to that money," Higgins said.
Higgins said Buffalo and Niagara Falls were historically two of the strongest economies in the nation because of the unique natural resources of the Niagara River and Niagara Falls, that is until an act of congress - the Niagara Redevelopment Act passed in 1957 - reallocated the hydropower created by the river to other parts of New York and to seven other states.
"They didn't have the right to do that," Higgins said.
Higgins, who was instrumental in negotiating a 2007 licensing agreement between the power authority, said he can use the relicensing of a downstate power project as leverage to get NYPA to pay for the removal of the parkway. The authority needs federal approval to continue to operate facility, which Higgins said loses money and is subsidized by the Niagara Power Project.
Higgins used a similar relicensing need as leverage when negotiating the relicensing agreement that ultimately led to the financing of substantial improvements along the waterfront in Buffalo.
"We will continue to be very aggressive in advancing this idea because it makes a lot of sense," Higgins said.
"That's what we did in Buffalo and we're prepared to it again," he added. "This community is worth fighting for."
Additional coverage of Congressman Higgins' announcement will be available in Friday's edition of the Niagara Gazette.