Public access and environmental concerns were the major issues presented to the Horizons Waterfront Commission at a public meeting Thursday in Tonawanda City Hall.
About two dozen residents and municipal officials from several Erie County communities attended the meeting -- the third and final one held by the commission this week -- to comment on the commission's draft document of goals and objectives for the county's 90 miles of waterfront property.
After reviewing the comments, the commission plans to adopt a final statement of goals by next month.
A suggestion that the commission consider public access for swimming came from Robert Gregg of the City of Tonawanda. Jerry Naughton of Orchard Park said barriers along the waterfront and parking fees should be banned for true public access. John Mikulski of Grand Island wondered why Woodlawn Beach on the island couldn't be opened up for public use.
"It would certainly take the pressure off Beaver Island," he said.
But Daniel C. Sitler of Saratoga Associates, the firm that prepared the waterfront commission study, noted that the property is privately held. Even if it were acquired for public use, he said, the county Health Department would not allow public use of the beach because of environmental hazards that would cost an estimated $13 million to remediate.
June Knoerzer of Lancaster wanted to know the source of funding to clean up more than 50 sites along the waterfront that have been identified by state and federal environmental agencies as hazardous waste sites.
Ms. Knoerzer expressed doubt that state and federal Superfund programs could address the problem because of the high concentration of hazardous waste sites in Western New York.
Horizons Waterfront Commission Chairman Edward C. Cosgrove said, "I don't know if we have the answers necessarily." He suggested that a solution might be possible if the public, in large numbers, expressed its desires to its elected officials.
"We not only have to want to have this happen intellectually, we have to want it in our hearts," Cosgrove said. "It can't be a passing concern."
Tonawanda Town Councilman Carl Calabrese said that without a clean waterfront, the commission's goal for a "successful and prosperous waterfront could never be realized." Calabrese said the commission should first become apprised of the criteria for removing remediated sites from state and federal lists of hazardous waste sites.
"Otherwise, a lot of time and money will have been spent cleaning up these sites. I'm concerned there will be an absolute (bureaucratic) gridlock when it comes to reclaiming these parcels for public use," Calabrese said.
Lackawanna Councilman George W. Halsey cautioned the commission not to exclude economic development and job creation from its goals. Halsey noted that coke ovens along his city's waterfront are slated to be there until at least the year 2010, making those areas incompatible with the idea of public access.
Cosgrove said the commission is pursuing mixed use of the waterfront, including recreational, housing and commercial uses. While Cosgrove expressed the importances of limiting the kinds of commercial uses to be pursued on the waterfront, some commercial uses would be needed to pay for enhancements to the shoreline.
Sitler added, "Shoreline access won't be continuous, but at least we can pursue the spirit of that ideal."
Commission members agreed with Tonawanda City Council President Vincent Harmon about establishing parameters for the types of structures that could exist on the waterfront.
"If we can't have a greenbelt (along the waterfront), at least can have a commonality of design," Harmon said.