Niagara Gazette

May 10, 2013

RECURRING PROBLEM

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — No matter how many times it's built up, it gets ripped back down again.

The "it" is a fence that separates a DeVaux neighborhood from the expressway that runs between the beautiful brick homes that fill the streets and the Niagara Gorge.

Robert McDonnell, a Lafayette Avenue resident, says he is sick of having to call the New York State Department of Transportation to repair the fence every time someone cuts it away. He has been involved in at least three reports to the DOT in the last year.

"I think the state has done a stellar job responding to and fixing (the fence) at great expense," McDonnell said.

He and other members of the neighborhood watch for the block see the breached fence as a safety hazard and a possible entry point for people looking to cause mischief or even engage in criminal activity, McDonnell said. 

"What we're trying to do is bring attention to safety issues and security issues," McDonnell said.

Susan Surdej, a public information officer for the Western New York office of the DOT, said the state is often called out to repair fencing on both the Robert Moses Parkway - particularly the stretch the runs from Findlay Drive to the city limit - and the LaSalle Expressway.

"The Moses is the one that we're out on most frequently," Surdej said. "We try to respond and we try to mend that as best we can."

The DOT spent about $8,000 repairing fences along the two roads - about $5,000 along the Robert Moses Parkway and about $3,000 along the LaSalle Expressway in 2012. 

Surdej said the DOT has alerted the New York State Park Police to the issue, but there are not many other options for preventing vandals from cutting down the fence.

"The only thing we can really do is ask the neighbors to be aware and remain vigilant to try to take notice when people are vandalizing the fence," Surdej said.

Mayor Paul Dyster, who grew up on Lewiston Road in the DeVeaux neighborhood, said that people have been cutting holes in the fence since he was a kid.

"It's an absolutely untenable situation to have so many people living so close to such a tremendous natural resource and have their access cut off," Dyster said.

Dyster said he feels the DOT could be putting the money they spend on repairing the fence to better use, being that the fence is often cut down soon after it has been replaced. 

"It does seem that at a time when money is tight for governments that this might not be the most effective use of money," Dyster said.

During the scoping process for the Robert Moses Parkway North project, the public expressed a desire to have increased access to the gorge. All three of the remaining options for reconfiguring the roadway include expanded access and a more pedestrian-friendly parkway, though to different extents.

Dyster said it is only natural for people to be drawn to the gorge.

"I think it's been recognized that access will be a part of whatever comes next on the parkway," Dyster said. "I would be astonished if whatever plan emerges doesn't include access to the gorge trails."

But McDonnell, the Lafayette Avenue resident, said there is plenty of access already, with a pedestrian bridge a few blocks from his home that leads to Devil's Hole State Park.

"That's the place that you should be accessing the gorge," McDonnell said.

Crossing the parkway behind McDonnell's house - where there is no crosswalk and drivers regularly speed - is unnecessary, he said.

"There's no reason for people to be coming to the end of our street," McDonnell said. "It's dangerous for them to do that."

A frustrated McDonnell said that whatever might happen in the future, in terms of more access, has nothing to do with the fact that cutting the fence down is illegal now.

He and other neighborhood watch members will continue to look for the people who have repeatedly pulled down the barrier, he said.

"I'd hate to say that we're going to overlook what's in place and go against what the law provides right now just to accommodate somebody's entertainment value or whatever," McDonnell said. "It doesn't make sense."