By Larry Beahan
All my life I have lived within a few miles of the world famous Niagara River. It is a magnificent river. I have swum in it, paddled a canoe across it, raced sailboats in it, ridden bikes along it, marveled at its powerful current, photographed its falls, counted its gulls, hiked its gorge, been amazed at its 3-foot-long salmon and proudly taken out-of-towners to it to be mesmerized.
I have also coughed in the polluted haze that hangs over parts of it, tried to ignore its smokestacks and oil silos, avoided eating its fish and wondered at the disappearance of its islands.
One-fifth of the world’s fresh water courses through the Niagara River and en route the energy is converted into a vast quantity of electricity. There is a cost to exploiting the river in this way. Much less water goes over the falls, the water level shifts, disrupting marine life and shoreline plants, the natural beauty of the gorge is left with a huge concrete scar and much of the river shore is lined with polluting industry and the brownfields of former industry.
So in 2004, I was pleased to represent Sierra Club in a group of environmental organizations called the NREC, Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition. We had a seat at the table during the three-year negotiation to renew the 50-year license for the operation of the Niagara River Power Plant. We came away in 2007 pleased with the $9 million-a-year the New York Power Authority agreed to pay to rehabilitate the river and we were pleased with the accompanying New York State Greenway legislation. That legislation promises a greenway defined as “a linear system of state and local parks and conservation areas linked by a network of multi-use trails” along the Niagara River. We expected finally to have the U.S. side of the river compare favorably to the Canadian side.
In 2013, we have nothing that resembles that promised greenway. More than 100 projects have been funded at a cost of $46 million. The money has been spent in a haphazard way to fund admirable projects, mostly unrelated to the legal definition of the greenway. Three examples of this largess are: a marquee for the Palace Theater in Lockport; a streetscape for the village of Sanborn; and $4.6 million for Lewiston Porter’s Athletic Complex.
Our environmental coalition has repeatedly pointed out this misdirection of funds. But until now no one has articulated and publicized the problem and its solutions as effectively as Sam Magavern and his “think tank,” the Partnership for the Public Good. Please look at its report, The Niagara River Greenway, Fulfilling the Promise (www.ppgbuffalo.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/greenway-report.pdf).
The State Legislature must give the Niagara Greenway Commission the funding and the authority to fulfill the greenway promise.
Larry Beahan is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club Niagara Group.