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A recent Buffalo News editorial said Governor Pataki “deserved praise and support” for his proposal to create a Niagara River Greenway Commission to help plan and develop a greenway of interconnected parks, river access points and a waterfront trail along the Niagara River from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.”  This Greenway Commission idea also has our state representatives falling all over themselves with endorsements, even though some of them have actively opposed the greenway proposal for the Niagara gorge rim being promoted since 1997 by the Niagara Heritage Partnership.  It’s evidently much easier to embrace an undefined planning concept from the Governor than to support action in the world of reality.


Just a few months ago, however, when the Governor had the opportunity through the Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to create a greenway over a five mile stretch along the lower Niagara, he chose instead to retain a redundant two-lane commuter route and to smooth over an additional two lanes of concrete with blacktop.  Hikers and bicyclists are supposed to enjoy this new blacktop alongside the commuters.  And now he wants a commission to plan and develop a lake-to-lake greenway.


A greenway lake-to-lake along the Niagara River would be a wondrous achievement, and the necessity of planning for such a project certainly can’t be dismissed.  If Pataki’s idea for this greenway, however, accepts unnecessary highways through what otherwise could be restored natural landscapes, his idea is very distorted.  A greenway should be more than highways going past lawns, especially in areas of ecological, historical, and cultural significance.  Such areas are degraded by the presence of the highway and vehicles.


When OSPRHP falls so much in love with its own jargon, such as “multi-use” and “interconnectedness,” that it forces these abstractions onto the real world, the result can be disastrous.  Here at Niagara, for example, occasional hikers walk several feet away from vehicles whizzing down a highway that defaces the Niagara gorge rim.


Furthermore, the fourteen voting members of the commission proposed by the Governor will be comprised totally of his appointments.  The idea of this extensive greenway is too important to be placed solely in the hands of political appointees and career bureaucrats.  Beyond the perfunctory inclusion of “advisory committees” to the Commission, the environmental community has been ignored.  There should be an additional fourteen voting members coming from grassroots environmental organizations who have much to offer.


Since there are plans for the Commission to remain intact beyond the approval of its greenway plan by the Governor, and to meet quarterly, there should be questions about the need for its continued existence.  Will the commission function as a quasi-State Parks in charge of greenway development?  Will it then be funded?  Is the proposal for the Commission an attempt to create an entity that will then request mitigation or settlement funding soon becoming available to our region?  Is there a strategy to position the Commission to administer the millions that may eventually come to our region via a National Heritage Area designation?


Based on the track record of State Parks and other Niagara Commissioners appointed by the Governor, the Greenway Commission will be non-responsive to citizen concerns.  Documentation of this lack of response is provided at under “Response to the Robert Moses Parkway Pilot Project Evaluation Report.”


The day after the News editorial appeared in favor of Pataki’s Greenway Commission, one of the items in the newspaper’s trivia quiz was “Name the governor of New York State.”  That may have caused a few smiles in our region, but it’s not trivial at all when decisions are being made at the highest levels of state government that will impact the natural environment and the quality of our lives years into the future.


Because of Pataki’s high interest in a greenway for Niagara, the Niagara Heritage Partnership expects the Governor to revisit the State Park’s decision regarding the Niagara gorge parkway, and to encourage a more rational direction to be taken, one closely aligned with the enormous grassroots support for a genuine greenway.  If he does nothing to redirect the recent unwise conclusion of State Parks and persists in maintaining his greenway commission proposal in its present form, then the last trivia question in that same issue of the newspaper becomes relevant.  That question asked the meaning of  “chutzpah.”


Bob Baxter, Conservation Chair

June 2004



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Niagara Heritage Partnership

MPO Box 1495

Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723