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A State Supreme Court justice today lifted the restraining order that had prevented the Maid of Mist operator from working on its new docking facility.

The Maid of the Mist will be able to resume, at least for now, construction of a boat storage facility in the Niagara Gorge so that it can continue operation of the boat tours that began in 1846 after this year.

State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto ruled against the Niagara Preservation Coalition, whose president, Louis Ricciuti, admitted his group was founded with assistance from Hornblower Cruises, which wants to run boats on the U.S. side of the falls.

Attorneys representing the New York Power Authority and the Maid of the Mist Corp. had argued this morning the newly created preservation group lacked standing to block the work.

Hornblower has brought suit against the state in an effort to overturn the Maid of the Mist’s no bid contract to operate tourist boats below Niagara Falls.

The judge has reserved her decision on that matter.

After nearly two hours of oral argument on the preservation coalition lawsuit, Panepinto ruled in favor of the Maid of the Mist and the power authority in terms of the restraining order.

The judge had questioned coalition attorney Linda R. Shaw on whether her lawsuit was doing harm to the Maid of the Mist and to 300 construction workers idled by last week’s temporary restraining order against the boat storage and dock project.

“What about a company that’s going to go out of business? What do you say to 300 people who are making prevailing wage sitting home?” Panepinto asked.

“We’re not trying to put anybody out of work,” Shaw replied.

“But you are effectively,” the judge responded.

Shaw insisted the project was doing harm to her clients because of damage to the site of the 1956 Schoellkopf Power Station collapse, which last month was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Attorneys for the power authority and Maid of the Mist said state environmental law requires Shaw to show that Ricciuti and his fellow coalition members are personally and directly harmed by the project.

Brian Gwitt, attorney for the Maid of the Mist, said, “The Maid of the Mist would probably be put out of business if this project doesn’t go forward.”

“This entire project is a huge public benefit,” he said.

Assistant Attorney General George Zimmerman, representing the Power Authority, told the judge, “It’s our land to do with as we will under our laws. That’s what we’re going to do.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com