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For a region practically drowning in water, it’s unfathomable why so many leaders fail to grasp a fundamental concept: The water’s edge and the riches that flow from it should build on that advantage, not squander it.

The latest not to get it are Niagara County officials balking at any effort to ensure that money meant for the Niagara River Greenway corridor is spent there, not on projects 10 miles – nautical or otherwise – from the river.

The siphoning of Greenway money – meant to create a linear system of parks and trails adjacent to the Niagara River – to instead fund sidewalks in Sanborn and other such projects having nothing to do with enjoyment of the riverfront is the wasting of a natural resource so typical of this region’s shortsightedness.

An effort by State Sen. Mark Grisanti and Assemblyman Sean Ryan to rewrite the Greenway legislation so that even Western New York can’t screw it up has run into opposition from Niagara County officials who insist on the right to do just that.

The effort follows a Partnership for the Public Good report showing that the plan by the localities strays from the original intent by also focusing on “revitalizing urban centers” miles from the water. While that’s important, it’s not what the $9 million per year from the Niagara Power Project relicensing deal was meant for.

Grisanti and Ryan would rewrite the law to impose limits on how far from the river the money could be spent – something one might think would be unnecessary, given the unique opportunities offered by the river and Lakes Erie and Ontario. We shouldn’t be squandering those resources or the money that flows from them. For local officials surrounded by water not to understand that is like the Devil not understanding fire.

But Niagara County officials aren’t the only ones who are all wet. Buffalo Common Council members and Erie County legislators still want to explore a football stadium, museum and parking lots – for starters – on nearly half the outer harbor land that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority wants to turn over to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. and the city.

The NFTA’s focus remains “maintaining access to the waterfront and the public’s enjoyment of the waterfront,” says Chairman Howard Zemsky.

“We’re going to create incredible amounts of greenspace … and public access,” counters George Hasiotis, vice president of the stadium group.

His definition must be different from mine. Other than making it convenient to throw the Buffalo Bills in the lake after another pathetic season, football is not dependent on – or even enhanced by – proximity to the water. Neither is a museum, convention center or any other such access-gobbling facility.

Enticed by the promise of jobs, some officials nevertheless clamor for the NFTA to grant a land option to study a project that shouldn’t be built there, even if lots of other issues are resolved. Hasiotis said his group already looked at other sites. It should keep looking.

Just don’t gaze northward on the Greenway, where officials seem as shortsighted as those in Buffalo when it comes to what we have along the water and how best to capitalize on it.

The City of Cleveland is often called the “mistake by the lake.” With two Great Lakes linked by a world-famous river, Buffalo Niagara shouldn’t try so hard to snatch away that title.

email: rwatson@buffnews.com