By Bob Baxter
Niagara Gazette — In 1997 the Niagara Heritage Partnership proposed that the Niagara gorge parkway be totally removed in the interest of restoring the natural environment that was once part of our heritage along the rim. As might have been predicted, opposition to removal was immediate. What we couldn’t have predicted was the nature of the opposition: Name calling, misinformation campaigns, political maneuvering, etc. Of course, the opposition’s idea of “compromise” was to keep the parkway — and still is, in some “reconfiguration” or the other — so that was a non-starter.
From very early on, by way of misinformation, the opposition said, “NHP wants to remove the parkway all the way to Youngstown.” But we never did and still don’t. This lie had legs, however. During the last election cycle, I got a robo-call informing me that candidate Amy Witryol wanted to remove the parkway. Of course, she’s never taken a position on the parkway issue, one way or the other, but why let facts get in the way of running a campaign?
At another time over the years since 1997, Sen. George Maziarz and Assemblyman John Cerreto, helped by Professor William Angus (and his students) at Niagara University initiated a bogus trolley-on-the-parkway “study.” The idea was to make this enterprise look so favorable that the proposal for parkway removal would be squashed. That failed when we pointed out what a scam the “study” was — and we’ve heard nothing more about it.
When the removal proposal had gained enough momentum to request funding from the Niagara River Greenway Commission for a scientific study, Maziarz and Richard Soluri, former Lewiston mayor, showed up unannounced at a greenway meeting where they both spoke at length against the funding being granted. Minutes after the meeting adjourned, Maziarz looked me in the face and said he had not spoken against the funding. Which was I to believe — him or my lying ears? I remember specifically some of what he said that day: “What about my studies?” he’d asked the committee members, petulantly. “I know they’re not scientific, but everyone I ask wants to keep the parkway.” That he’d confused the idea of a study with a personal, biased survey didn’t appear to occur to him.
These are but a few examples from dozens of opposing tactics. I’m not complaining, just revealing.
In the following paragraphs are the outlines of the gorge parkway removal argument as accurately as I can present them. The Niagara Heritage Partnership remains strongly in favor of total gorge parkway removal — more strongly, in fact, than we were in 1997.
WHAT WE STILL PROPOSE: the total removal of all four lanes of the gorge parkway between Niagara Falls and Lewiston and the restoration of the natural environment along the gorge rim, graced by a walking and a bicycling trail.
WHY? Establishing this natural park, so closely linked to the natural wonder of the falls, will serve as a focal point for promoting our region to mid-range eco-tourists, a potential for economic growth that other areas of the country have already demonstrated to be richly rewarding.
WHO SUPPORTS THIS PROPOSAL? Thousands of individuals and about 80 organizations. The list is available for viewing on the NHP website: www.niagaraheritage.org.
WHO OPPOSES IT? Generally, the “North towns,” i.e., Lewiston, Youngstown, Fort Niagara, et al.
WHY REMOVE IT? The scientific study, by EDR, recently released, has concluded that:
1) the potential for regional economic growth via eco-tourism exists. 2) Alternative routes could easily handle the traffic currently using the parkway should it be removed. 2a) The time added to commuting from Lewiston to Niagara Falls (without the parkway) would be under five minutes. 3) The cost of removal is reasonable ($3.8 million). 4) Funding is available to accomplish the task.
WHAT ABOUT COMPROMISE? Yes, this is worth discussion, although some of the benefits of total, full-length removal would be lost (such as the greenhouse proposed for the lanes currently crossing the power plant). Removing only the portion from downtown Niagara Falls to the city line at Devil’s Hole is a worthwhile compromise that could retain the heart of the proposal.
WHAT ABOUT REMOVAL FROM DOWNTOWN TO FINDLAY DRIVE? This idea is worthless, unacceptable if we want to realize the benefits of regional economic growth via eco-tourism as originally proposed.
EDR was aware of the fact that the stretch of the gorge rim between Findlay Drive and the city line at Devil’s Hole is the most environmentally significant, so essential to the vision of natural restoration, that they concluded, and recommended, that it be the first section removed.
POSTSCRIPT: OPRHP might be considered in opposition to removal, as well. State Parks has spent over $750,000 creating six possible “treatments” of the gorge rim (options), of which one is total removal — but over a year later has failed to present, as they promised to do, the two to three options selected for further study — and has currently installed new pavement on a southern portion of the gorge parkway.
It is the New Year’s wish of NHP that those in opposition to parkway removal recognize their wrong-headed thinking, that they decide to be rational: the parkway needs to go. May they find the courage to stand for the vision that will restore our gorge-rim legacy for the generations to follow us. Lacking such insight and courage, if they still find themselves incapable of supporting removal, then at the very least, perhaps they’ll stop making things up about the NHP proposal.
Bob Baxter is the Conservation Chair of the Niagara Heritage Partnership.Bob Baxter is the Conservation Chair of the Niagara Heritage Partnership