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Preservationists seek injunction to stop work on Maid of the Mist facility

NIAGARA FALLS – Construction on the Maid of the Mist’s new boat dock and storage facility in the Niagara Gorge went on in the rain Monday, while the fight to halt the work is continuing in court.

The Niagara Preservation Coalition has asked the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court to issue an injunction to stop the work on the $32 million project because items it describes as “significant historic building remnants” were recently photographed being removed from the site.

The group also says the New York Power Authority has not followed its own guidelines for how to proceed when “unanticipated” items are found.

The coalition, which has previously tried to get the courts to stop work at the site, will have its petition heard by a panel of judges in Rochester next Monday, Linda R. Shaw, the group’s attorney, said in an email.

Monday is the last day the judges hear motions before their summer break, Shaw said, and the panel won’t return to hear cases again until September, but it can issue written rulings anytime.

The Maid of the Mist Corp. is building its dock and storage facility on the site of the former Schoellkopf Power Station, most of which was destroyed in 1956 when part of the gorge wall collapsed on top of it. The new dock is critical to the future of Maid of the Mist, which lost its winter docking area on the Canadian side last year when Canadian authorities chose another company to operate boats from its shore.

Since late March, workers have uncovered 10 to 12 small items from the site, including old tools, that date back to the days when the Schoellkopf plant was in operation. Such items are being stored at a Power Authority warehouse, state officials said. How significant they are and how to tell the larger story of the historical site for visitors has not been decided, said Robert F. Panepinto, the Power Authority’s cultural resources specialist.

The site, which is owned by the Power Authority and located just north of the Rainbow Bridge, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in February. “How do we tell the story of what happened here?” is the underlying question, Panepinto said, and the answer may include doing some interpretation down in the gorge or up above it.

The State Historic Preservation Office has already stated there will be a minimum of three interpretive panels at the site, he said, and one potential site for interpretation includes an area where one of the turbines from building 3B is buried, with the top of it sticking out of the rubble.

State officials, including representatives of the Power Authority and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, escorted reporters on viewings Monday, both from the river level and above, near the Gorge Discovery Center.

Construction of the boat storage facility is about 20 percent complete, said Vinny Jowdy, project manager for LP Ciminelli.

While the project won’t be done until next year, the critical portion needed to remove the boats from the water must be done by November, Jowdy said.

A building of roughly 2,500 square feet is planned for the gorge site and will include restrooms and office space. The overall site is less than 2 acres in size, Jowdy said.

Some of the site preparation that has been completed or is ongoing includes:

• Scaling of the gorge wall to remove loose rock.

• Removal of some trees and brush.

• Installation of a temporary elevator.

• Some soil that was put onto the site sometime between 1961 and 1976 is being moved to help the grade of the site.

Work still planned includes:

• Rehabilitating the original power station elevator, which will be used to transport people down to and up from the gorge facility.

• Installing a permanent marine crane to raise and lower the Maid’s boats before and after winter.

• Cleaning up existing hiking trails on the north side of the site.

The construction is being funded by the Maid of the Mist, which will turn over the facility to the state once completed, officials said.

On April 5, the Niagara Preservation Coalition, headed by Louis Ricciuti, an area environmentalist, obtained a temporary restraining order that halted construction at the site; that order was removed by a judge April 11.

Last year, after Maid of the Mist Corp. lost the rights to provide boat tours on the Canadian side to Hornblower Cruises of California, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced an amendment to the Maid’s contract with the state that officials have said would allow the company to continue operating on the American side.

An ongoing lawsuit is challenging the state’s award of a no-bid contract to the Maid for those boat tours.