A halt to further cutting of brush and trees along West River Parkway on Grand Island has been ordered after several areas that were only supposed to be trimmed were clear-cut instead, including the removal of several trees.
State officials are trying to balance the interests of residents and motorists -- some of whom want to see more river and some who want to see more trees -- while protecting an important habitat for birds and other wildlife.
The cutting was done under county auspices on state property under an unusual arrangement.
The 8-mile parkway connects Beaver Island and Buckhorn state parks and affords a spectacular view of the river and Canadian shore. It runs parallel to West River Road, whose residents enjoy the same view.
For several years, welfare recipients engaged in a county "workfare" program, clearing brush and trimming trees along the river on state property. They left the brush for removal by the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction.
This year, however, instead of just trimming, there were two or three areas where everything -- brush and trees -- was cut at ground level, prompting complaints.
"It got out of hand with wide swaths of clear-cutting," said Ben Morey, Beaver Island park manager.
Morey said he was not putting the blame anywhere.
However, the work was apparently done in specific areas at the request of people living on West River Road who made requests through the office of County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore.
Among the areas clear-cut was in front of the home of Robert Beach, president of the West River Homeowners Association, which helps maintain the parkway.
Beach said he was away when the work was done about a month ago and was surprised to find that everything -- poison ivy, brush and two trees -- had been removed.
"It was more than I asked for and more than I expected, but I admit I'm not unhappy about it," said Beach, who can see the river from his home again for the first time in years.
Beach said he thinks the area in front of his house was done before the program was halted because he was among the first to file a request with Swanick's office.
Swanick agreed it is unusual for a county program to be operating on state land but said he views it as a good example of intergovernmental cooperation and said it worked fine for years. He said it was halted after he was notified by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that the area is a bird sanctuary.
"The program is on hold, but I think it's a good program and if it needs to be modified we can sit down and discuss it," he said.
While the area is considered a "Globally Important Bird Area" by the National Audubon Society it is not a bird sanctuary, according to information from the DEC.
Morey said the vegetation is just one of many issues to be decided and he hopes to develop a comprehensive management plan for the entire parkway. Issues such as horseback riding and use of the parkway during the winter when it is not plowed and attracts snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles also need to be settled.
The reason the parkway was built back in the 1950s was that it afforded a nice view of the river during leisurely drives so cutting back vegetation to maintain the view is acceptable, Morey said.
But residents might have to settle for limited views; "vistas rather than panoramas," as he put it.
While not singling anyone out, he said some residents "are not good stewards of the land and would rather see everything cut down."
DOT cuts the grass on the parkway but doesn't have the personnel to do much else, according to Larry Kieffer, resident engineer.
The homeowners association has a lot to do with the parkway looking as nice as it does, Beach said. It was the first road in the state to be "adopted" by an organization pledging to keep it clean.