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Transfer the land; NFTA should go along with Higgins and give up its outer harbor property

Putting the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. in charge of the public property on the outer harbor makes perfect sense. That step forward will happen as soon as the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority takes Rep. Brian Higgins' suggestion and transfers title to its outer harbor land in return for $1.

Henry Sloma, acting NFTA director, should get on board immediately and make it happen as soon as harbor agency officials dig out their dollar.

It should be as simple as that. Done. But this is Buffalo, and there are often many objections to things that make sense.

Higgins, responsible for much of the waterfront progress when he secured funding in the 2005 New York Power Authority settlement, appealed directly to Sloma to transfer the land.

Higgins then wants the waterfront agency to make $11.5 million in improvements for what amounts to nearly 400 acres of property, and direct revenue from the Small Boat Harbor to future outer harbor improvements.

That plan would start the vital capital improvements that languished under the NFTA's stewardship.

Moreover, the transfer would take financial and management burdens off the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. The NFTA has held the property for decades, and has tried to get rid of it for the last several years. The NFTA correctly wants out of the real estate business so that it can focus on its core mission of moving people.

Higgins has discussed the proposal with Erie Canal Harbor and NFTA officials, most of whom seem amenable to the idea. Sloma didn't endorse the proposal but acknowledged that the waterfront agency seemed to be the "logical" choice to develop the outer harbor.

We think so. But, again, this is Buffalo and there are always objections. This time it's the City of Buffalo and newly elected Assemblyman Michael Kearns.

Earlier this month, Mayor Byron W. Brown stated that the city wants to be involved in development discussions on the outer harbor. The city, as the mayor told The News editorial board, has had decades of experience in leasing the city-owned Erie Basin Marina to private developers and has capital funding and public employee resources to draw on.

Although the city might be capable of taking over the land, it still makes little sense to have two agencies splitting responsibility for Buffalo's waterfront. The core mission of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is developing the waterfront, and it has been praised for its work at Canalside.

That argument hasn't deterred Kearns, who says he is looking out for city interests by suggesting what amounts to yet another lengthy delay.

Kearns has filed legislation in the Assembly calling for an 11-member task force to study the outer harbor. The move would bar property from being transferred until the release of a final report in January 2013.

The assemblyman takes a shot at the waterfront agency when he talks about its previous long courtship of Bass Pro. That plan ultimately failed, and the agency learned from that failure, regrouped and now has great progress at Canalside to show for it.

Political disagreements have to be set aside to make this work.

Higgins' proposal allows for the city to have a seat at the table. Sam Hoyt, the waterfront agency's interim director, who said he's open to the proposal, in fact is insisting that the city be involved and a partner.

The NFTA needs and wants to get out of the real estate business. The only questions are how and when. Higgins' plan shows how, and the time is right now.