Niagara Gazette

March 9, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Parkway study shouldn't be so easily dismissed

By Bob Baxter
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I agree with almost everything Joe Grabka said in in his recent letter. He’s only unaware of a few things — such as the degree to which the Niagara Heritage Partnership believes total gorge parkway removal would improve the business climate of Main Street, for example. As such, he’s still light years ahead of Assemblyman John Ceretto and Sen. George Maziarz, who haven’t, in 16 years, given the NHP proposal genuine consideration.

NHP does say that removing the parkway detour around the city would help businesses in Niagara Falls. We never said, however, that removal would create instant economic prosperity for Main Street, or anywhere else, but that it would be part of the solution to reviving business districts.

Even if he is, we should still consider the major reasons, supported by evidence shown by the EDR study, that total removal is advisable. This study, titled “Regional Economic Growth Through Ecological Restoration of the Niagara Gorge Rim,” the only actual study ever done of this issue, cost $140,000. The Niagara River Greenway Commission funded $115,00 of that, and $25,000 came from the city of Niagara Falls. (Maziarz spoke against the funding being granted, and even today remains confused about what constitutes a real study.) Note: Paul Dyster — but not as “Mayor” — and family members, have signed the NHP petition for total removal. As a common-sense person he knows the parkway should be totally gone; as mayor, he hedges his bets — he’ll take what he can get.

The EDR study concluded that the gorge parkway should be totally removed, that traffic on alternate routes would pose no problem, that it was affordable at $3.8 million, that removal would save millions in both the short and long term, that it has the potential to reap economic benefits for the region — and that the gorge rim between Findlay and the city line (exactly the section those opposed to removal are so desperate to keep), was so valuable environmentally that it should be the first section of the road removed, and then the rim restored with natural landscapes.

And now everyone, Ceretto, Dyster, and to some degree, Maziarz, et al, including State Parks, seem content to pretend the EDR study never took place. They didn’t like the conclusions. Never mind facts and evidence: They know what they believe, they know what they want. The results of the State Parks “scoping” of the issue reflects this bias.

Several weeks ago I sent Ceretto a letter asking him to reconsider his position and support total removal. I mapped out a rationale and sources where he could find out more about the details. But he didn’t give me the courtesy of a reply. If you’d like to see that letter, email me at erbaxter@aol.com and I’ll send you a copy.

In the end, Mark Thomas of the OPRHP and the rest of the politicians will do what they want, regardless of a mountain of contrary evidence pointing to a different course of action. We know at whose feet the final responsibility for wrong action here is to be placed.

Maziarz can go on with his public endorsement of “Option 3” (keeping the parkway on the best part of the gorge rim); he can go on trotting out Wallenda; he can continue to say “restoration of native landscapes in several areas” to journalists for quotation as if he believes those words stand for something worthwhile, rather than what they will translate to in reality: the spotty planting of a few native trees and shrubs along a two-lane road; he can go on disparaging the EDR study without naming it, revealing his confusion about it and other earlier “plans” and schemes; he can go on noting that Option 3 got the “highest rating from public response forms received to date,” while ignoring the 4000+ signatures of those endorsing total removal and the 80 organizations who also support total removal.

That he even thinks that this issue should be largely resolved by local comment is revealing; we are not discussing the proposed enlargement of a Walmart parking lot here, where only those “in the neighborhood” get to have a say — we are trying to determine how to remedy the desecration of a world-renowned landscape by a redundant highway, how this geological feature unique in North America, carved out by the retreat of the last ice age, can be best preserved and ecologically restored for future generations.

So Maziarz and the rest of guys should stop trying to sell us this version of “keep the parkway.” They know it’s bogus. Maziarz should stop telling the tale of his going “door-to-door in the city of Niagara Falls, particularly in the DeVeaux neighborhood,” listening to thoroughly debunked complaints about “air quality issues” and traffic jams on Lewiston Road; both Dick Soluri and Maziarz should stop repeating the parkway is crucial for Lewiston’s survival when there’s absolutely no evidence in support of that, zero. Mark Thomas should stop behaving as if providing “transportation,” ie, keeping the parkway, has suddenly become the most important part of the State Parks mission; he should stop rhapsodizing about the land added to State Park holdings south of Findlay while ignoring the damage caused by the parkway north of it, while he also ignores the fact that the Niagara River Corridor has been designated a Globally Significant Important Bird Area. (Will tour busses be driving on that “multimodal” gorge rim trail, incidentally?)

Dyster should stop asking that people be “willing to postpone their disagreements with what happens north of Findlay into the next phase of the discussion.” When he’s willing to successfully work to re-visit Phase One so that it totally removes the parkway from downtown to the City Line at Devil’s Hole, I’ll postpone my disagreements. Christopher Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara Development, should stop the magical thinking that makes him talk about the three options as if they’re compatible, while simultaneously extolling the virtues of north south “connectivity” to Lewiston and Youngstown.

These guys are starting to remind me of Colin Powell, displaying sketches of fictional mobile bio-weapons and holding up vials of talcum powder, a show-and-tell based on, they claimed later, bad intelligence. As it turned out, it was no intelligence at all, just fantasy, lies. But they sold it. We’re not buying it this time. We may have it forced on us, anyway, but we still prefer the elegant vision of total removal and the benefits it could provide along the gorge rim and throughout the region.

We can imagine long-grass, flowering meadows, song birds and butterflies, hiking and bicycling trails winding through stands of young trees, maturing over time to become the old-growth forests of the future. At gorge bottom, the river will continue to flow. We’ll all be long gone by then, of course. But through this environment over the years are the families —having picnics, hiking, riding bicycles, young children playing, becoming young adults, the couples, the solitary walkers, the middle-aged, the elderly, those in wheelchairs, their lives enriched by the natural landscapes they can enter. For many of us, this would be our little ribbon of wilderness close to home, one we could afford. This should be our legacy.

Bob Baxter is the conservation chair of the Niagara Heritage Partnership