Environmental assessments are under way in efforts to convert part of the Joseph A. Davis State Park into a town golf course, but arguments are looming over just which kinds of birdies and eagles may win out.
Conservation and wildlife groups are voicing concern over plans to manicure the woodlots and meadowlands in a park located along a key habitat stretch of the Niagara River, designated recently as an international Important Bird Area.
Opposition is expected to intensify as a Town of Lewiston referendum on the $5 million Grand View Golf Course project nears, on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
Town officials, meanwhile, have scheduled an Oct. 18 public hearing on the issue. The 2 p.m. hearing is scheduled to be held in the park, but would be shifted to the Lewiston Senior Center in case of inclement weather.
Under the proposal, the town would lease from half to two-thirds of the state park to construct and operate a public golf course. The state would retain the park lands closest to the river.
State officials earlier had considered turning over the entire 360-acre park, long described as "underutilized," but opted instead for the partial lease.
The town would lease the inland portion of the park for 20 years, with an option to renew for another 20.
The November town referendum, Niagara Region state parks officials said, is the next step.
"The state is working on the environmental review," said town engineer Robert A. Gallucci. "That process is going on, and it's in the early stages."
The review will cover both a proposed lease agreement and conditions at the park itself, town and state officials said.
"They're doing a complete review of the entire park -- habitat, archaeological resources and so forth," said Henry Brodowski, deputy district director of the Niagara Frontier State Parks and Recreation Commission.
Concern over the project has been voiced by some Lewiston residents, and they have been joined by more than three dozen environmental, sports and conservation groups.
The concerns range from the economic value of the project, to threats to wildlife habitat or the loss of hunting privileges on one of the few state parks allowing public small-game hunting.
Construction, pesticides and the planned use of treated water from the wastewater plant on the golf course could impact wildlife, a coalition organizer said.
The golf course proposal also could affect neighboring properties, providing both an economic boon for development and an additional threat of habitat losses along Lower River Road.
The nearby Riverwalk subdivision, which launched its first phase of development more than 15 years ago with about a dozen single-family homes, has received town planning board approval for a second-phase effort involving clusters of single-family and multi-family dwellings.
Improvement of a maintenance road toward the rear of the Stella Niagara property also could spur development, critics contend.