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Do the right thing on Niagara River Greenway plan

At the end of the Niagara River Greenway plan hearing in the Historical Society Building, my heart sank. The parking lot and auditorium were jammed with enthusiastic people. Speaker after speaker got up to praise the Greenway Plan that Wendel-Ducherer Consultants had put together to restore the river.

They spoke of a vision of a necklace of parks and green spaces along the Niagara River, access to the river for viewing its blue expanse and for boating and fishing, tourism, and telling the story of the War of 1812 and almost 200 years of peace, of the 10,000 years it took to make Niagara Falls and the possibility of restoring the pristine waters of that earlier time. They spoke ardently and eloquently, and we applauded them.

Then the second to last speaker rose. He was Tim Wanamaker, representing the City of Buffalo. We had assumed that Buffalo was on our side, on the side of all these enthusiastic citizens, but Wanamaker read a long document in legalistic prose citing concern after concern. A hushed pall fell over the crowd. No one was sure exactly what was the intent of the city. But it certainly was not squarely behind rehabilitating the Niagara River.

A coalition of Niagara County municipalities had already staked out its opposition to keeping the Greenway Plan a true river plan, and now Buffalo seemed to be giving it the final destructive thrust. Would the money we negotiated to rehabilitate the Niagara River be decimated by going to replenish failing local budgets? Would it go up in smoke like the cigarette money?

I have represented the 2,000 members of the Sierra Club's Niagara Group through three years of Niagara Power Project relicensing and Greenway negotiations. We have sat through days and days of grinding talk, speculation, horse trading and finally what we believed to be consensus. The Niagara Power Project was to be relicensed and continue to operate, and in repayment for what it had done to the Niagara River, $450 million over the next 50 years would be devoted to cleansing its waters and spreading a Greenway along its banks.

The Greenway would compensate for the massive concrete scar in the Niagara Gorge wall and rid us of the concrete roadway that cuts off the City of Niagara Falls from the most dramatic stretch of the Niagara River Gorge. It would repair the damaged shore created by the rise and fall of the river; and compensate for the thousands of fish turned into chowder as they pour through the turbines, and for the pollution created by industry attracted to its cheap electric power.

All that possibility now may be lost in the sink-hole of self-defeating Buffalo-Niagara mismanagement and infighting unless we citizens demand that our political leaders do the right thing.

Let's rescue the remnants of this incomparable natural gift to our region, the river, the gorge and the Falls of Niagara. Call your councilmen and mayors to account.

Larry Beahan is forestry chairman of the Niagara Group of the Sierra Club.

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