NIAGARA FALLS – A spokesman for State Parks said Friday that a tentative arrangement has been reached to build a new State Parks Police station where it won’t interfere with the view of the Niagara River Gorge.
Randy Simons said the new site would be a 1.24-acre parcel on the east side of the Robert Moses Parkway, currently owned by the New York Power Authority.
Mayor Paul A. Dyster said the City Council will be asked to vote Monday on surrendering the city’s right to acquire that land, which adjoins the city’s inactive DeFranco Park. The property had been promised to the city under the terms of the 2005 Niagara Power Project relicensing agreement.
Simons said the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation then would have to make an agreement with the Power Authority for transfer of the land.
“NYPA is working with State Parks and the city to make this happen,” Power Authority spokesman Michael Salzman said. However, final arrangements have not been made, he said.
The Power Authority parcel is big enough that State Parks won’t have to redesign the new police station, Simons said.
It was to be built on a larger state-owned parcel overlooking the gorge behind the Howard Johnson’s at 454 Main St., but after work had begun, objections were raised by tourism and parks advocates that the project constituted visual pollution of the gorge vista. Work was suspended last month.
“The people spoke. We wish they had spoken more loudly earlier,” said Sam Hoyt, local head of Empire State Development.
Simons said the state spent about $1 million on the false start.
Hoyt said, “It’s a good outcome when it comes to addressing the very real sensibilities of people who are concerned about the gorge … It isn’t frivolous. It isn’t unjustified, and we are changing course.”
Simons said, “The good news is that the gorge site is now cleaned up, which eventually would need to be done anyway.”
Radioactive slag was found on the gorge site, similar to that discovered beneath Lewiston Road when the City of Niagara Falls had that street reconstructed a few years ago.
“If the new site needs remediation, we’ll clean that up as well, before we build, if in fact we are able to acquire the property,” Simons said.
Dyster said, “We believe that some remediation needs to be done.”
Simons said the actual cost of the 9,000-square-foot police station at the Power Authority won’t be known until the investigation is completed and bids are sought.
The Parks spokesman added that police are “confident” the new location is close enough to the park that it won’t interfere with their operations.
“We want to protect the patrons of Niagara Falls and protect the gorge that is so important to citizens,” Simons said.
The new police station is needed because State Parks wants to use the site of the current station on Goat Island for a new visitor center for the Cave of the Winds, one of the major attractions in Niagara Falls State Park.
Before objections were raised, the state intended to open the new police station in 2015 and the Cave of the Winds project in 2017. Now, Simons said, the new police station is slated to open in 2017 and the Cave project in 2019.
“If you move the police station from the gorge site to any other site, you’re looking at a monstrous delay,” he said.
The resolution on Monday’s Council agenda calls for the city to give up its right to acquire the Power Authority parcel for $1.
Dyster said the city had no plans for it and didn’t ask for any type of compensation. It did include that site on a list of alternative locations for the police station.
“We were supposed to consult with State Parks on how to use it anyway,” Dyster said.
Salzman said the Power Authority plans no additional compensation to the city.
The Power Authority parcel is diagonally across the parkway from the Howard Johnson’s site. The parkway between downtown Niagara Falls and Findlay Drive is supposed to be removed at some point soon.
Dyster said that with the new site, police “could easily access Whirlpool Street or whatever access road replaces the parkway.”