With House approval of a bill to create a Niagara Falls national heritage area, a long-sought federal designation is finally within reach. All that remains is for the Senate to approve the bill and for President Bush to sign it. Both are expected to do so, despite some ill-considered static about the program and the city's suitability for it.
The House in October overwhelmingly approved the creation of six new heritage areas, part of a national program in which local, state and federal governments and the private sector work together to manage such activities as conservation and interpretation. The Niagara Falls heritage area has been under discussion since 2000. In 2002, Congress and the president approved a plan to study creation of a national heritage area here.
Now, five years later, it's on the verge of being done. The bill would provide $15 million in federal funding to set up the area and create a commission to oversee it. The idea would stretch from the western boundary of the Town of Wheatfield to the mouth of the Niagara River, and from the river to Lake Ontario. It would include the City of Niagara Falls and the villages of Youngstown and Lewiston.
The Niagara Falls region needs this designation. Alone among major American tourist destinations, it is simultaneously overflowing with historic and social import yet bereft of the stature it deserves. Much of this is due to corruption or incompetence in both the public and private sectors. Designation as a national heritage area won't fix those problems. Still, the Niagara region clearly qualifies for this program and the designation could be a valuable tool in restoring some of its lost luster.
The Senate is expected to vote on this matter soon and, despite the objections of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., it is expected to pass. Observers also expect Bush to sign it, even though he criticized it. Sooner is better.