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RESIDENTS DISCUSS PROPOSED RIVER GREENWAY

The future of the Niagara River was the topic Monday as about 30 residents turned out for a meeting to offer their views on what a Niagara River greenway should look like.

The greenway, a long-discussed idea that was moved forward this year, would run along a 36-mile path from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, linking towns, parks and trails from South Buffalo to Youngstown while preserving green spaces along the shore.

Environmentalists and some residents have wanted it for years.

"We've never had this conversation as a region," said Julie Barrett O'Neill, executive director of the Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers, who led the meeting.

Deciding where to start is the hard part.

On Sept. 22, Gov. George E. Pataki signed a law creating a commission to execute the plan. It would be funded by an undetermined amount of dollars, somewhere in the millions, from the New York Power Authority relicensing process.

The commission -- which is expected to be formed in six months -- would be made up of 14 people, most of them local residents appointed by Pataki and state lawmakers.

Until the group is in place and can decide which projects will be included in the greenway plan -- due to the state in two years -- the power authority has hired the Canadian Urban Institute to help begin research.

Two representatives from the Toronto company presented the work they have completed in the past month and asked attendees Monday what they want the greenway to include.

"We are here to develop a consensus among the municipalities and constituents," said Jeff Evenson. "We are interviewing town planners and elected officials in an attempt to understand what waterfront resources exist in the towns and how they might tie together."

Sorting through all those opinions led to some heated discussion, and a few of the steps recommended included:

Establishing river keepers to ensure the waterfront stays protected.

Limiting development along the Niagara Gorge.

Demolishing the Robert Moses Parkway.

Restoring ponds and plant life.

"We cannot depend on elected officials that come and go," said Jim Tomkins, president of the Quality Quest Coalition in Grand Island, an active environmental group that has helped preserve land there. "We have to make sure things are maintained."

Establishing a local conservancy to maintain whatever projects a greenway commission decides to start is a common goal most environmentalists in the region share, Tomkins said.

There will be an additional public meeting with the greenway commission, but that date has not been set.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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