There has been a lot of talk over the years about how to undo the damage that was done to Niagara Falls by the Robert Moses Parkway, which cuts the city off from the spectacular Niagara River Gorge.
Some minor steps have been taken along the way, including the abandonment of the southbound lanes to pedestrians and bicyclists, but the massive task of reconnecting Niagara Falls to the river has never been seriously contemplated. The city has paid a high price for that. The dramatic and turbulent Niagara River Gorge is, in its own way, as interesting as the falls, themselves.
That was then, before Brian Higgins’ 26th Congressional District was expanded to include Niagara Falls. Now, Higgins is a bulldog that’s found a meaty new bone.
Higgins wants the New York Power Authority to pay the estimated $120 million cost to remove and redesign what he termed – correctly – as an “absurdly overbuilt” highway. His thinking on this issue is both straightforward and a touch Machiavellian.
“NYPA planned the parkway, NYPA built it, NYPA evicted several scores of homeowners and other property owners to seize the land on which it sits, and NYPA owns the land under the parkway to this day,” he said. “As such, NYPA bears the responsibility for fixing it.”
It’s an accurate assessment, and also an affordable one. Higgins, who has made it his business to understand the ins and outs of the Power Authority, notes that the authority posted a $309 million surplus in 2008, 76 percent of which came from electricity generated at the Lewiston plant.
He also noted that NYPA helped take more than $1 billion from the Niagara project in the last six years to fund operations elsewhere and that it generated an extra $39.5 million last year from excess water flows at Niagara and should see its profits grow as it increases its generating capacity.
To incentivize NPYA to see matters his way, however, Higgins is prepared to hold a knife to the authority’s throat. He suggested that he could object to the 2019 federal relicensing of a Catskills power plant that is considered crucial to New York City’s power supply.
Higgins knows where he has leverage, and as others have learned – and as NYPA, itself, learned during the 2007 relicensing of the Niagara Power Project – he is prepared to use it to benefit his district. Money produced during that relicensing project is funding the rebirth of Buffalo’s waterfront.
We hope it doesn’t come to that. We don’t like pitting Western New York’s interests against New York City’s. Instead, NYPA should simply accept its obligation to reverse the damage it inflicted on Niagara Falls decades ago, and use some of its massive surpluses to benefit this region.
It should also recognize that Western New York has never reaped the kind of benefits that this power plant should have provided it. Instead, most of the benefits go elsewhere. This is a way for the Power Authority to make a profound difference in the life of Niagara Falls, whose waterway has made a difference to NYPA.