Niagara Gazette

Local News

August 29, 2013

Hornblower vows appeal as judge upholds state's handling of no-bid agreement with Maid of the Mist

A state supreme court justice from Niagara County has dismissed a competitor's legal challenge aimed at reopening a contract currently held by the Maid of the Mist Corp. to operate boat tours at the base of the Falls.

In a decision issued Thursday, New York State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto ruled that state officials, including New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey and New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil Quiniones, acted appropriately and within the law when they agreed to modify the terms of a 2002 agreement between the state and the Maid to cover plans for the conversion of the state-owned Schoellkopf Power Station site into storage facilities for the company's fleet. 

Hornblower Cruises, a California-based firm that will begin offering boat tours of its own from the Canadian side next year, had challenged the legality of the process that led to the signing of the 2012 memorandum of understanding that altered the terms of the Maid's original tour operation deal with the New York state. The company's attorneys argued that state officials entered into the modified agreement without seeking competitive bids for service as required by law. 

In her ruling, Panepinto noted that the court is compelled to "exercise a high degree of judicial deference to the involved state agencies" and that the court may also "recognize other reasonable interpretations of the work described in the amendment." Panepinto determined that it was "not irrational" for the New York State Comptroller's Office to conclude that the docking facility "does not alter the identity or main purpose of the original contract." Her ruling describes the state comptroller's conclusion that public bidding was not required prior to construction as "reasonable."

"This is just another confirmation that everything was done properly," said Maid attorney Brian Gwitt. "From the Maid of the Mist's standpoint, they believed they did everything properly and this is just confirmation." 

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