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December 29, 2005


Ellen Carlson, Project Manager

National Park Service

Northeast Region

15 State Street

Boston, MA 01209


Dear Ms. Carlson:


The Niagara Heritage Partnership strongly endorses Alternative 3 for the National Heritage Area and a Federal Commission for a management entity.


Requested Rationale


Although we acknowledge an impulse to restrict the Heritage Area to Niagara Falls because of the area’s desperate need for environmental and economical revitalization, we chose Alternative 3 in recognition of our region’s need to tell our entire cultural, historical, and natural stories in context and with integrity.


We chose a Federal Commission because of our admiration, generally, of the respect the National Park Service has for the natural environment, which is reflected in the attitudes of its employees who come in contact with the public, in its preservation activities, and in its educational programs.


The Niagara Greenway Commission, seemingly favored by the Niagara National Heritage Area study report, would be the worst possible choice for a management entity. It’s a subset of the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) which, given their dismal record of stewardship on the Niagara Frontier, should disqualify either of these entities from any function serving the natural environment and multi-cultural indigenous and visiting populations.


It would take, literally, hundreds of pages, a book, to document and detail the lack of stewardship displayed by OPRHP on the Frontier, regardless of what may otherwise be their brilliant performance in other state parks, so outstanding that Commissioner Castro has received award recognition.


At Niagara, in broad strokes:


- OPRHP has contracted with a private concessionaire, Delaware North, who engages

in practices on Goat Island (portable food shacks, expanded restaurant, etc, etc.) in

direct conflict with the Frederick Law Olmsted philosophy, so strongly endorsed

verbally by Gov. Pataki and OPRHP Commissioner Castro.


- OPRHP itself, with great fanfare and media celebration, has positioned a fiberglass

climbing wall near the gorge rim.


- Their actions and the subsequent evaluation report published in conjunction with

NYS DOT on the gorge parkway alterations are both illogical and insupportable.   

Disappointingly, the Heritage Area Study Report repeats their assertions as if they’re

valid, and then makes a vague reference to unsatisfied “concerns of the parkway’s most 

outspoken critics.”


- State Parks paints a crosswalk over parkway lanes, for example, and calls it “improved

access.” This twisting of language and the truth is pervasive. Which reasonable person

or organization interested in parks and the public good wouldn’t be critical of such

duplicity? It’s our hope that with a Federal Commission Management Team this

spinning of the truth will be eliminated.


- Further, OPRHP states in the Heritage Area Study (p58) its specific need to develop

“alternative transportation/expanded people mover routes to expand visitor experience

along Lower Niagara River.” This is OPRHP endorsing Olmsted out of one corner of

their agency mouth and advocating contradictory practices out of the other corner.


- There is no “specific need” for this unless OPRHP has retained and repaved closed

parkway lanes as another potential money-maker for State Parks, to further degrade and

prevent the restoration of natural landscapes, and to further deny opportunities for local

businesses (tour drivers, etc.), with the parkway gone to access points of interest along

the lower river by right angle routes. Several years ago, we (NHP) were given

assurances in writing that State Parks had no plans for such an enterprise. Evidently,

they’ve made such plans since then.


- OPRHP seems to think generating revenue is their chief function; is stewardship on the

list at all?


For nearly a half-century, those of us who value a natural Niagara in our parks have seen Olmsted’s vision steadily eroded by ignorance and commercial interests, but never so rapid an erosion as has occurred under the present administration. Over the years, many of us have been publicly critical of anti-Olmsted practices, saying that our parks were being turned into carnival grounds or a circus. We intended these comments as cautionary insults, but OPRHP has evidently mistaken them as advice. This past year has seen the parks infested with people prancing around in yellow bear suits or being zipped around in electric carts, food shacks, coin-squeezing souvenir stations, chainsaw sculpture contests, huge kite flying events, and an elephant.


Delaware North, though not alone, is in the middle of all this and resentful of the possibility of a Federal Commission as a management entity—hence the petulant questions from the Delaware North rep at the Heritage Area hearing about whether “the law could be changed” so we could get Federal millions and expertise, but no Federal oversight or participation. Perish the thought. Federal presence and a new more thoughtful OPRHP, coming soon we trust, might stop, or at least slow, the erosion.


Unfortunately, the Greenway Commission will probably remain intact. With minimal exception, the locally appointed Commissioners are sufficiently out of touch with their mission (“parks…in the Olmsted tradition” p.16) that two of them agreed on a recent call-in television show, (Insight, LCTV, 8 December 2005) that they’d consider locating a “saw-sharpening industry” on the waterfront if approached with such a request. (Several months ago, we (NHP) emailed the Olmsted plan to each of these Commissioners.) One of those on the television show, in response to the idea that the demographics of the Commission didn’t adequately represent our multi-cultural region, implied the Commission would be qualified to be Heritage Area managers fully able to present Native American and African American heritage because of the proximity of his village to the 2,000 year-old Indian mound, and the Tuscarora Nation reservation, and because of the “plays and musicals” about black history performed in the Village. Is anyone paying attention to this outrageous nonsense?


OPRHP’s most recent preposterous announcement is their intention to shut off the flow of water over the American Falls for up to a year. This is necessary, they claim, to replace, not restore, the pedestrian bridge to Goat Island, which has deteriorated beyond repair. The stone bridge, over a hundred years old, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (built in 1901). (We note that damage to the bridge leading to its current condition may have been caused by OPRHP in the first place by allowing inappropriate use of the bridge during the “remodeling” of the larger vehicle bridge up rapids.)


In any case, the flow of water over the American Falls a century ago was nearly double what it is now. The stonemasons and others who build the Olmsted bridge in 1901 did not find it necessary to stop the water from flowing over the American Falls to do so.


As reported in a recent newspaper article, the current OPRHP shut-off plan will result in large amounts of diverted and backed up water being shared by Canadian power generating facilities and by NYPA. Will these water amounts be in excess of the gallonage now permitted by International Joint Treaty?


If so we have questions: In whose pockets will the extra money made by sale of electricity end up? Will OPRHP use greenway funding provided by NYPA to pay for damming and bridge replacement? Will it be done from the separate fund NYPA has already agreed to provide OPRHP as their “greenway” settlement or from additional funds to be allocated to OPRHP to satisfy plans the Niagara Greenway Commission will eventually complete and submit to OPRHP for implementation? What will be the difference between bridge replacement costs and the money NYPA will make on the extra electricity? Has the contractor for damming off the falls already been chosen behind closed doors? Is this a one hand washes the other deal—or are we being too cynical and suspicious here? Where do you live?


The Olmsted bridge is part of our cultural and historical heritage. The NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has a mandate, indicated by its name, to preserve such artifacts. If the stones of the bridge need to be dismantled one by one after being photographed and numbered, and then reassembled so that the original bridge can be preserved, restored to a safe condition and used for the purpose originally intended, then that is what needs to be done.


But what we are getting instead is an OPRHP spokesperson and others on TV news saying how “neat,” or words to that effect, it will be for people to see the falls shut off again, second time in so many years, etc, etc. We question how “neat” it will be for the mother and father in Europe, India, China, or elsewhere in the world, who skip lunch for twelve years to save money to bring their family to Niagara Falls, when they arrive during the shut-off year.


If it’s so neat, why not install a dam at the east end of Goat Island that can be easily opened and closed so that the water flowing to the American Falls can be shut off for a week or two every tourist season? The shut off time could be marketed to extend the season, promoted as the “Niagara Shutdown Festival.” Rates in OPRHP parking lots could be doubled during those weeks and State Park gift and souvenir shops could do a brisk business selling tee-shirts with “I was at the Niagara Shutdown Festival! It was Neat!” printed on them.


I hesitated to mention this idea because someone in OPRHP might take it seriously. And I’m not kidding. Are you still wondering why we’re endorsing a Federal Commission Management entity?


Other Remarks on the NNHAS


1). Restoration should be given consideration equal to preservation. The Niagara Frontier should be able to reclaim some of what it has lost.


2). The Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours in the lower Niagara is mentioned as if it’s an asset, as if it doesn’t detract from the experience of the natural world at Niagara. Has an Environmental Impact Study been done re this enterprise?


3). No significant “attractive glimpses” of the lower gorge can be had from “scenic drives” on the Robert Moses Parkway. (OPRHP cites these “attractive glimpses” as rationale for parkway retention). NHP has a video shot from a car window that supports the assertion of no significant “glimpses.”


4. Somewhere in “tourism theme” (p. 38) or elsewhere there should be a recognition of drama (plays) painting, sketches, drawings, music, poetry, novels, books of nonfiction, historical studies, essays, and film in the “memorabilia that human ingenuity created in order to interpret an overpowering natural feature.”


5). The study report repeatedly mentions the 44 million dollars spent in the region by OPRHP as if the mere expenditure of large amounts is praiseworthy. But over half of that money went to retrofit the Niagara Reservation Observation Tower, which Gov. Pataki initially called an “eyesore,” saying “it had to go,” to be replaced by underground elevator access to the Maid of the Mist boat landing. Instead, the tower was shortened and we ended up with two thirds of an eyesore, plus a huge, new, concrete gift shop in Prospect Park, further removing us from the Olmsted vision. Nearly another 3 million was spent on the overwide “people movers” that resulted in additional blacktop on Goat Island. Yet, OPRHP continues their great silence about their three to four acre maintenance garage property on the gorge rim. Perhaps they are secretly working to remove it as a contribution to the greenway and there will be an announcement soon.


6). NYPA {A} wishes to “explore potential opportunities offered by NYPA relicensing.” and {B} to “ensure security of power generating facilities.”


{A} NYPA wasn’t too keen on exploring some of these opportunities during relicensing. They refused to discuss the parkway removal issue and the damage done to the gorge wall and Devil’s Hole State Park by their access road, created by easement agreement with OPRHP. They hired consultants to do their own study of the parkway issue; the results did not offend their sister agency, OPRHP. The access road issue was put off repeatedly until they were able to defer it and the problematic details of other environmental issues to the newly created greenway subsidiaries, who will receive settlement money from them, including OPRHP and the Greenway Commission.


{B} They stonewalled the security issue: (“We’re prepared for any contingency” and it couldn’t be discussed since it’s a matter of Homeland Security.) NHP attempted to alert our homeland security and political representatives to what we considered a security risk for the main generating plant. See attached summary.


Repeated, personal, and pointed requests, in writing and by phone, to both Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Slaughter (among others) for responses to our concerns, we regret to report, resulted in no responses whatsoever.


Concluding Remarks


NHP does not have the status or power of a state agency or authority. We don’t have politicians “on our side.” We don’t have lots of money. We’re not camera friendly. What we do have is a genuine concern for the natural environment at Niagara, and a rational, compelling argument for parkway removal and natural landscape restoration, incorporating economic benefits for the region. We believe we have successfully refuted every objection of those who wish to retain all or part of the parkway, over and over, since the same tired complaints keep being repeated as if they have merit. The proposal for the removal of all four lanes of the gorge parkway has the endorsement of 67 organizations with a combined membership of over a million, and about 4,000 individuals also in favor. (List of organizations attached.)


We don’t mention this thinking it will change anything. We recognize that public policy is not often formulated based on rational argument. Who’s boss is much more important, along with who’s got the money. So when OPRHP announces the closed parkway lanes will be a “recreationway” (p 16) we know that was the plan from the beginning, that there never was a real “pilot,” which we said from the beginning. (see Pilot Project Response attached)


We put this in writing so it will be part of our region’s historical record. The “recreationway” may eventually be a road for people movers next to the commuter route lanes (with portable food shacks scattered along the way)— and what could have been a restored slice of wilderness extending from the state’s most unique and well known gorge and river will continue to be degraded for the people-mover money, minor political considerations and personal convenience. Castro will move on to another job, and fifty or a hundred years from now, people will look back and the issue might be seen differently, even by those in a position of power.


Please don’t conclude from the reality-based speculation of the last few sentences that we’re opting out of future debate about Niagara’s natural environment. We trust that a Federal Commission will see more clearly than others some of what needs to be done.





Bob Baxter

Conservation Chair


f o r    g e n e r a t i o n s    t o    c o m e


Niagara Heritage Partnership

MPO Box 1495

Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723