Share this article

print logo

Off Main Street: The offbeat side of the news

Big Brother

Feel like you’re being watched from on high?

That could very well be the case for residents of Western New York, based on a new analysis by the website BuzzFeed that looked at government surveillance planes.

The website obtained registration numbers for 200 aircraft used by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to conduct surveillance in criminal and terrorism investigation. It then used flight-path data from the website Flighttradar 24 to see where those planes were flying during a four-month period last year.

Such planes are equipped with equipment that allow them to collect information, and even track cellphone activity.

Not surprising, the government planes routinely circled over major cities such as New York and Washington, D.C.

But there was also considerable buzz above Western New York.

The flights primarily flew along the Canadian border, but there was also substantial activity around Lockport.

There was also a cluster of activity in late October near Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security would not disclose to the website the reasons for any of the flights.

“It should come as no surprise that the FBI uses planes to follow terrorists, spies and serious criminals,” said FBI Deputy Director Mark Giliano, in a statement included in the website’s report. “We have an obligation to follow those people who want to hurt our country and its citizens, and we will continue to do so.”

Safety matters

Traffic jams can occur in the most unlikely places, even under ground.

With Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz ordering the closure of the Franklin Street tunnel leading to the subterranean levels of the three-level Main Place Parking Ramp, motorists are now fighting heavy traffic as they wind their way into the bowels of the ramp after entering on Pearl Street.

The jams happen when the motorist at the lead spies a spot and begins to finesse the vehicle into the spot. If the vehicle is large, as in SUV or pickup, it can take awhile. Horns start to blare and tempers flare.

Poloncarz, on a recommendation from the federal Department of Homeland Security, closed the tunnel because it runs beneath the Rath Building and represents a terror risk. But now there are other risks, points out attorney Frank J. Frascogna, who used to use the tunnel.

“Pedestrians crossing Franklin and Pearl are more at risk with the increased traffic,” Frascogna said.

And don’t expect the tunnel to reopen. The county is considering eventually walling off the tunnel entrances currently blocked with concrete slabs and other temporary barriers,

When a ramp parker pondered if perhaps the entire ramp should be shut down, given that it is beneath a shopping mall as well, a worker said that was doubtful given concerns over the loss of revenue from the 1,000 spaces.

Only in America!

Be like Thurman

Gov. Andrew Cuomo used the football-playing prowess of Bills Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas to make a point about Buffalo’s recovery on Wednesday.

After announcing money for four major projects in Erie and Niagara counties, Cuomo talked about Buffalo’s progress.

“All of the arrows are pointed in the right direction,” Cuomo said. “The hard work is done. It was overcoming the cynicism and pessimism and the apathy of the people of Western New York. That was the hard part...,” the governor said.

“Now you have to keep going. It’s the lesson of Thurman Thomas. You just keep those legs pumping,” Cuomo said, with a nod to the Bills great who was grinning in one of the front rows.

Thomas, a backer of Carl Paladino when he lost to Cuomo in the 2010 governor’s race, later supported Cuomo for his re-election in 2014.

“After years of neglect, Western New York is headed for the goal line,” Thomas said in an ad.

Off Main Street is written by Tiffany Lankes with contributions from Mark Sommer and Lou Michel.