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Jazz fest awarded grant; Is first event to get Greenway money

WHEATFIELD — For the first time, the committee that controls Niagara River Greenway money in Niagara County awarded cash Tuesday to an event rather than a project involving construction.

By a 6-2 margin, the Host Communities Standing Committee voted to give $15,000 to the Historic Lewiston Jazz Festival despite concerns from Robert A. Daly of the New York Power Authority that the move violated the rules set up in the Niagara Power Project relicensing agreement for the use of Greenway funds.

Specifically, the deal says that Greenway money, all of which comes from the Power Authority, can't be used for operations or maintenance of any project that already existed before 2007. The jazz festival, which has a $127,000 budget, is marking its 10th year.

Daly was joined in voting no by Angelo Massaro, attorney for the Niagara Falls School District, who said he was concerned about setting a precedent for funding activities rather than projects. He said the committee might end up funding "Fourth of July celebrations."

The two no votes normally would have forced the funding request to be tabled for 30 days, because the Greenway contract requires "consensus" on the first vote and a delay if consensus isn't achieved.

That would have left the jazz festival in a bind, because it is being held Aug. 26 and 27. Executive Director Sandra Hays-Mies said the festival is using the $15,000 in large part to book two major headliners to mark the 10th anniversary: Hilario Duran's 13-piece Latin big band the first night and jazz singer Kurt Elling the second night.

But in a 20-minute exhibition of legal hair splitting, committee attorney Stanley Widger and Massaro decided that consensus is needed only for the committee to determine whether a project is con-

sistent with the Greenway plan, not to award the funding itself.

"I know it's a tight line," Massaro said.

Widger also ruled the jazz festival does not violate the pre- 2007 rule, because sponsors are signed one year at a time. "I don't think it's a pre-existing commitment," he said.

The committee then took two votes: 8-0 to determine the jazz festival was consistent with Greenway rules, and 6-2 to pay the money.

"This happened one other time, and this isn't the way the committee proceeded," Daly said.

There was no controversy over $25,000 in Greenway funds for another Lewiston event: next year's commemoration and re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights, the first major engagement of the War of 1812.

The committee also voted $300,000 for construction of a Tuscarora Heroes monument in Lewiston, to mark an 1813 incident where Tuscarora Indians charged down from the Niagara Escarpment to scare off British and Mohawk forces planning to massacre the inhabitants of Lewiston.

"This is the only time we know of that Native Americans saved the lives of white settlers during a foreign invasion," said former County Legislator Lee Simonson of Lewiston, who has written a book about the incident.

The monument is to be unveiled Dec. 19, 2013, the 200th anniversary of the event.

"I'm a happy camper. Never worried," Lewiston Supervisor Steven L. Reiter said after the votes.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com