The process of defining the Niagara River Greenway took its first steps Wednesday night in a room crowded with stakeholders from Buffalo to Youngstown.
More than 100 participants filled a Niagara University classroom for the inaugural meeting of the Niagara River Greenway Commission's Citizens Advisory Committee.
The group, set up by the law creating the commission, is meant as a clearinghouse for concerns of communities, groups and individuals along the greenway's length.
The commission has a year to develop a plan that sets rules for greenway projects and how it will operate. The plan has to be unanimously supported by the communities it includes, which will make a successful proposal something of a historic event, said Paul A. Dyster.
"Every city, town and village it touches must approve the plan," said Dyster, a commission board member and advisory committee chairman. "I don't know if the communities along the river have ever agreed on anything, ever."
The greenway's development is supposed to be supported by $8 million a year in compensation from the Niagara Power Project for 50 years, starting in 2007. But before the first project is funded, a large number of questions must be addressed.
What definition of "greenway" will the Niagara River Greenway Commission use? Some greenways allow motorized recreational vehicles, while others ban them, pointed out Niagara Heritage Partnership's Bob Baxter.
Where will the greenway boundaries lie? Should the greenway include land far from the river but linked by users?
"There is going to be a temptation to make the boundaries very, very wide," warned Linda H. Schneekloth, a University at Buffalo architecture professor. But unless they resist the temptation, she said, the impact of the greenway funding could be diluted.
Those basic questions will be up to the greenway commission to answer, with input from the public, Dyster said.
All of the greenway's documents will be posted on its Web site at www.niagaragreenway.org, including the minutes from past meetings, Dyster said. The next commission meeting will be at 3 p.m. Feb. 28 in Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island.