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Niagara entities to reject greenway plan Call focusing on waterfront 'too limiting'

The Niagara Power Coalition says its members will vote against a sweeping plan to remake the riverfront from Buffalo to Youngstown.

The coalition -- which includes Niagara County, the City of Niagara Falls, the towns of Niagara and Lewiston and three school districts -- said in a letter to the Niagara River Greenway Commission that it opposes the draft plan that prioritizes the waterfront.

Erie County, environmentalists and park advocates want the focus kept on the riverfront, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revitalize the two-county region.

"[It] is the consensus that the [Niagara Power Coalition] is not in a position to accept, nor support, the draft Greenway plan as written," concluded Samuel M. Ferraro, a commissioner and executive director with the Niagara County Center for Economic Development.

Ferraro said that as it stands now, coalition members would vote against the draft plan in upcoming municipality votes. But he held out hope the commission would look favorably on the coalition's proposed changes.

"The Niagara Power Coalition has taken time to review the document. Obviously, that says something about the coalition's interest in the greenway plan," Ferraro said. "We're hopeful that as a result of presenting our comments, they will be addressed."

The greenway plan offers a framework for the development of interconnected parks, river access points and waterfront trails along the Niagara River from Lake Erie in Buffalo to Lake Ontario in Porter. It would largely be financed by $9 million a year for 50 years -- with $3 million going to Niagara County -- from the State Power Authority through an agreement to relicense the Niagara Power Project.

All 13 municipalities are required to sign on to a greenway plan by March, when it must be submitted to the parks commissioner for approval.

The coalition's response includes numerous objections. Among them:

The plan's "priority status" -- which emphasizes improved access for waterfront resources, ecological restoration and a trail system from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario -- is too limiting.

The municipal boundaries fail to recognize the importance of linking three Niagara County trail corridors -- Seaway, Wine and Erie Canal -- to the greenway.

Communities within the municipal boundaries are not allowed to identify their own priorities that could complement the greenway plan's principles.

Municipal plans and countywide planning are disregarded, especially in the areas of economic development, tourism and education.

Coalition members are prevented from pursuits that involve open space preservation.

Industrial heritage initiatives being undertaken in Niagara County away from the riverfront are ignored.

The Power Coalition's settlement with the Power Authority allows it to collect the $3 million annually in greenway funds even if the plan is terminated. That has led some to fear it could discourage the coalition from accepting a plan emphasizing restoration of the water's edge.

Julie Barrett O'Neill, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, expressed frustration at the Niagara coalition's hardened position.

"If they don't pass the plan, not only does it jeopardize their goals -- including good waterfront projects -- but they also hurt all the other communities in Western New York that could benefit from having a regional waterfront plan," O'Neil said.

"Their position is irresponsible to future generations."

A public hearing for the greenway plan will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Niagara Falls Convention Center. A hearing in Buffalo will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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