City Council Chairman John G. Accardo may have attracted some federal backing for one of his ideas to boost the city's economy by accelerating waterfront development.
U.S. Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, said he is exploring the possibility of obtaining a national parks or scenic-area designation for the Niagara River Gorge, but warned the process may be slow because of federal budget problems.
Accardo and Councilmen Guy T. Sottile and Andrew M. Walker took the idea -- as well as City Council concerns on a wide range of local issues such as international bridge improvements, border-crossing fees, roads, the environment and tourism -- to LaFalce and other federal officials during a recent trip to Washington.
Earlier this month, the City Council unanimously backed Accardo's proposal for a gorge park designation.
"At this point, I couldn't be any happier," with LaFalce's response despite the obvious federal budget constraints, Accardo said.
"The Council members and I agreed that the idea regarding the Niagara Gorge requires careful study," LaFalce said. "I have initiated discussion on this with the Interior Department and others, and I am exploring the possibility of introducing legislation to undertake such a study. Given the present state of the federal budget, however, I cautioned the Council members that this is something that may not necessarily move too quickly."
Accardo acknowledged there are many questions and a long road ahead. A proponent of waterfront development as a way of expanding the city's economic base, Accardo also has proposed a study of possible commercial development of the Upper Niagara River shoreline.
"We believe (a gorge) designation creates tremendous opportunity for funding at the federal level for waterfront development . . . Such a designation could relieve New York state and the (state) parks system of maintenance and liability concerns," he said.
"The big picture here is, let's put the Niagara Gorge on the national map, make it part of the federal park system. Let's get the amenities that come along with that, like park management, better trails, better access, signage, security, the whole upgrading of the park system," Accardo said.
LaFalce said there are several possible designations, including national park, wild and scenic-river system and national heritage area.
The gorge has beauty, natural, environmental and historical significance, said Accardo, who noted that fishing there is regarded as some of the best in the country. Accardo, who lives near the gorge, said visitors from other states trying to get a glimpse of the gorge and the river are a regular sight in the DeVeaux section of the city.
Getting national recognition for the gorge wouldn't save the city, he said, but would be "a small piece of the puzzle."
It would work well with the city's plan to relocate the Amtrak passenger train station to North Main Street "to have a national park that you can just walk off the train to," he said.
Henry W. Brodowski, assistant regional director of state parks, said the land along the Lower River gorge is owned by the state parks and the New York Power Authority, and includes two state parks, Whirlpool and Devil's Hole.