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Spend wisely on greenway To get best returns from good plan, seek long-term regional benefits

Because dirt has yet to be turned over and no other tangible plain-to-the-eye development has yet to be realized, an important reminder has to be sent regarding the 34-mile greenway that one day will link Lake Ontario to Lake Erie: It's still on.

And that bit of information leads to a bit of advice for all those with a hand in shaping this long-needed Niagara River enhancement, and especially for those who already have been trying to divert chunks of Niagara County's share far away from the shoreline: Don't screw it up.

The greenway plan, which involves 13 municipalities along the waterfront and includes a connected system of trails, parks and conservation areas, seems the stuff of legend -- or, perhaps, of legendary dreams, considering the way it's been discussed for what seems forever. Fret not. Other places have undertaken such outrageous projects, and made them work.

Word has it that the Hudson River Valley Greenway is "flourishing," a description used by its executive director when discussing that project with a News reporter. That plan balances open-space protection with development, and its members ensure projects meet greenway guidelines and actually work together for the good of the Hudson River region.

This area has a dedicated funding stream of $450 million over the next 50 years from the New York Power Authority. The money, which amounts to about $145 million in spending power once inflation over that period is factored in, will be split among four standing committees still being formed in Erie and Niagara counties.

Driven by a need to compromise in order to land this deal, the final agreement gave allowances to Niagara County municipalities wanting to spend on projects away from the river. And therein lies a danger.

Niagara County's seven-member Niagara Power Coalition made the decision to split its share of the money in its settlement agreement, with allocations ranging from $510,000 a year for Lewiston and Niagara Falls to $360,000 for the Niagara-Wheatfield School District.

Unfortunately, in representative government, elected officials tend to fight hardest for their particular interests and push projects benefiting the common good off on "the other guys." Immediate needs, and moves that assist municipal budgets by funding projects that otherwise would need to be paid for by taxpayers, can weigh more heavily than good beyond-our-border projects that could do more, long term, to boost the regional economy and do even more to ease individual tax burdens -- not to mention just making this area a better place to live, for everybody.

Short-sighted decisions often follow much genuflecting to the "common good." Residents should be watchful. When push comes to shove, there's an effort to get as much as possible for narrowly defined special interests, and that's been the challenge in Niagara County, where specific claims on greenway money have been made early and often.

With limited resources, it is critical to apply those resources according to some rational calculation of where they will give the greatest return and overall benefit. The idea should be to focus on waterway projects that will benefit the entire region, the greater good. It worked in Hudson Valley. Can it happen here?

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