The activities of the New York Power Authority hurt the Niagara Falls Highland Avenue black community more than any other locality in this region. Located in the authority's shadow, this community of 2,784 people historically was one of the most heavily industrialized neighborhoods in Niagara County.
In 1957, federal law created the Power Authority with the primary intent of supporting the economic development of municipalities in Western New York. Many factories in Niagara County, which benefited from the authority's low-cost hydroelectric power, were located in or near the Highland Avenue community.
The closing of these factories left about 15 brownfield sites scattered throughout the 560-acre region. Niagara Falls will have to clean up and redevelop these sites before it can regenerate Highland Avenue.
This is a poor community with serious problems. Unemployment is high, almost half the population lives below the poverty line, the median household income is only $14,000 annually and only 22 percent of the homes are owner-occupied. The difficulties facing this neighborhood will worsen, unless the city implements a well-conceived and well-funded community development strategy.
Where will the money come from? Niagara Falls is a struggling city that has made downtown revitalization, tourism and casino resort development its top priorities.
The city simply does not have the resources to pursue economic development as a priority and simultaneously attack the enormous problem of brownfield redevelopment and neighborhood regeneration in Highland Avenue.
This is where the authority comes in. It should provide a dedicated source of funding for brownfield cleanup and neighborhood regeneration in the Highland Avenue community. The locale is currently a New York State Brownfield Opportunity Areas site.
This is a good start, however, the cleanup and rebuilding of this community will ultimately require millions, not thousands of dollars to complete.
The Power Authority has a moral and ethical responsibility to participate in the revitalization. It is not an acceptable alternative to give Niagara County $10 million to use as it chooses and then walk away. The authority is partially responsible for the problems endemic in the Highland Avenue community and it should be part of the solution.
It is incumbent upon the authority to do the right thing -- set aside funds for the regeneration of Highland Avenue. The Power Authority generates significant revenue in this region, and it should pay for the environmental byproducts spawned by its activities.
The authority possesses the resources to fund the revitalization of this struggling community situated in its shadow. Therefore, it should work out a settlement with the Highland Avenue community that is similar to the one Buffalo received for its waterfront.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo.