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NIAGARA FALLS – Louis Ricciuti, director of the Niagara Preservation Coalition, said Monday that the company that seeks to overturn the Maid of the Mist Corp. contract for boat rides at Niagara Falls helped him set up his group.

Ricciuti’s group, which he said has about a dozen members, obtained a temporary restraining order Friday barring the Maid of the Mist from further work on the site of its planned new docks and boat maintenance facility on the American side of the Niagara River.

The Maid had to arrange such a facility after Hornblower Cruises, the California company seeking to force competitive bidding for the New York contract, won a bid against the Maid for service from the Ontario side.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation allowed the Maid to begin work on the new facility while continuing its contract for rides. Hornblower sued, saying the no-bid contract is illegal.

Last week, the Preservation Coalition filed a suit contending that the Maid’s plans would damage a historic site – the remains of the Schoellkopf Power Station – as well as potentially cause environmental damage. Hornblower’s local attorney, John P. Bartolomei, said the Hornblower-Ricciuti connection is irrelevant. “What does that have to do with whether this whole deal is corrupt?” he asked.

Those issues will have their first hearing Thursday in State Supreme Court.

Ricciuti said that when he learned of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision last fall to continue the state’s relationship with Maid of the Mist Corp. without bidding, he was “livid” and phoned Hornblower CEO Terry MacRae.

“I told him that I was involved in environmental research,” said Ricciuti, who is known for his activism in that field. “That site the Maid of the Mist was using has some environmental problems.”

MacRae seemed interested, according to Ricciuti. “He said he was going to put me in touch with his attorney,” Ricciuti said.

That attorney suggested that Ricciuti contact Linda R. Shaw, a Rochester environmental attorney who now represents the Preservation Coalition in court.

Ricciuti said he already knew Shaw, who suggested setting up a group. “We needed to have some standing in court,” he said.

On Feb. 20, the day after the New York Power Authority declared that the Maid project would not have a significant environmental effect, the Preservation Coalition filed a certificate of incorporation with the New York Department of State. The address that it gave was 335 Buffalo Ave., Niagara Falls, the same as Bartolomei’s office.

On Feb. 28, the address was changed to 345 Buffalo Ave., a building in the same complex as Bartolomei’s office. Also, the coalition’s first news release was sent out by the same New York City media relations firm that represents Hornblower.

“I asked Linda to stop that,” Ricciuti said. “The next one, I wrote myself.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com