The Niagara Greenway must not be a black asphalt road along a gray cement canal lined with commerce. Last spring, the State Legislature hatched the Greenway Commission. Its charge: to aid in the planning and development of a Lake Ontario to Lake Erie greenway of interconnected parks, river access points and waterfront trails along the Niagara River.
The relicensing of the Niagara Power Project will partially fund this Greenway. It is up to the people of the Buffalo Niagara region to mold this effort into an economically and environmentally sound benefit. The Niagara River and the lakes it connects, Erie and Ontario, adorn Western New York with an enviable blue and flowing vista. These waters are an astounding 20 percent of the Earth's fresh water. For 10,000 years since the last ice age, they have supplied lush habitat for fish, plants and animals and for people.
But we have used these waters and their shores carelessly for 200 years. We have polluted them, replaced natural living and breeding places with concrete and rubble, reduced the thundering wonder of Niagara Falls to not much more than a heavy shower, spoiled the air and cluttered the shore.
The Niagara Power Project was licensed into action about 50 years ago. It was then the largest hydroelectric-generating installation in the Western world. It provided 2.4 million kilowatts of inexpensive electricity to power our flourishing industries. That was back when there was little concern for the damage industry did to the natural resources on which we and the industries themselves depended.
Now the Power Project needs a new federal license. This one will require it to pay for the downside of its effects on natural resources and the people of the Buffalo Niagara region. About $1 billion, over the 50 years of the new license, is the proposed payment. A sizable piece of that billion will go into the Greenway.
The New York Power Authority is spending $200,000 to plan the Niagara Greenway. It hired the Canadian Urban Institute of Toronto to develop a vision for the plan. The institute met with about 30 members of the Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition on Nov. 29. Here are some of the ideas:
The Greenway should protect and restore the Niagara ecosystem and should create jobs in conservation, eco-tourism and on the water. Recreation and transportation should not pave over the natural assets of the shoreline. The people who live in the region should have the chief voice in Greenway design.
There are to be 14 members of the Niagara Greenway Commission. Six state agency heads are automatically members. The governor appoints four and the Legislature four. We must see that people devoted to this region and its precious waterways represent us on this commission. My nominations are Margaret Wooster, a Great Lakes advocate; Barry Boyer, chairman of Friends of the Buffalo and Niagara rivers; and Paul Dykstra, an environmental contender for mayor of Niagara Falls.
Larry Beahan is the Sierra Club and Adirondack Mountain Club representative to the Niagara Power Project relicensing.