Sanity, at last. With one additional vote, the stalled hotel project in Niagara Falls was rescued this week. Councilman Robert A. Anderson Jr. changed his vote on Monday, creating a 3-2 majority in favor of a project that no one should have opposed.
Until Anderson’s change of heart, he was aligned with Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian and Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione in blocking the project proposed by Buffalo developer Mark Hamister. In a loony attempt at squeezing Hamister for vastly more money, the three threatened to upend the biggest private-sector development in Niagara Falls in decades.
The break came when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo entreated Hamister not to back out of the project, which he nearly did after an offensive political flier smeared him, and when Sam Hoyt, regional director of Empire State Development Corp., spoke with Anderson, apparently allaying the councilman’s concerns.
So the $25.3 million project can go ahead. The only question is whether any other developers are going to want to risk doing business with the nut house known as the Niagara Falls City Council.
As we’ve said before, the No. 1 priority for the millions of dollars in fines expected to be levied against Tonawanda Coke is to repair the damage the company created.
The proposed $11 million study of the effects on public health of the company’s toxic emissions sounds like a good place to begin. Once University at Buffalo researchers document the health damage the company caused, we’ll have an idea of what the next steps will be.
The company was found guilty on 14 of 19 criminal charges after a four-week trial. A company executive was convicted on 15 of 19 charges. Prosecutors have asked the judge to fine the company $57 million, which would fund the study and cleanup.
Other environmental projects have been proposed, including new parks, a relocation fund and anti-pollution initiatives. But all that must take a back seat to assessing the health impacts of Tonawanda Coke’s criminal activity.
The Buffalo School District graduates about half its students, test scores are abysmal, 42 of 63 schools are failing, turnaround applications can’t be completed properly and a parent group says the district violated the law 14 times in the last year. And finally, the district is taking concrete action. It is hiring a $115,000-a-year public relations specialist to join the $82,000-a-year PR person already on staff.
If Lorey Schultz, the former Channel 4 reporter turned flack, manages to put a positive spin on the sorry state of Buffalo’s schools, she will have earned every penny she’s paid.
But it’s discouraging to see the superintendent adding another layer of insulation rather than dealing directly with her constituents.