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N.Y. Power Authority blocks Greenway funding for Sanborn parking lot, Artpark

WHEATFIELD – The New York Power Authority on Wednesday blocked, at least temporarily, a move to use $200,000 in Niagara River Greenway funding on a Sanborn parking lot.

A $165,000 funding request for a variety of artistic projects this summer at Artpark also was delayed because of the Power Authority’s “no” vote.

The committee did allocate $43,000 on Wednesday toward restoration of the largest surviving undeveloped, forested parcel of land in the Town of Niagara.

The Host Communities Standing Committee, which controls Greenway funding in Niagara County, comprises the Power Authority and the seven members of the Niagara Power Coalition: Niagara County, the City of Niagara Falls, the Lewiston-Porter, Niagara Wheatfield and Niagara Falls school districts, and the towns of Lewiston and Niagara.

Carol Jasen Sampson, representing the Power Authority, which supplies the Greenway money, cast the only vote against the Sanborn and Artpark requests.

The committee rules require unanimity, and if it’s not obtained, the project is put on hold for at least 30 days. A special meeting was called for April 15 to deal with the issues; then only a simple majority vote will be needed to approve the money.

Sampson wouldn’t tell the other members why she voted no. “It’s an array of concepts the Power Authority can put in writing,” she said.

The parking lot and driveway would be installed at the Sanborn Area Historical Society’s Farm Museum on Saunders Settlement Road. The 100-space paved area would replace the current parking on loose gravel or grass. The Greenway Commission decided Tuesday that the project was consistent with the Greenway plan, although three of its members voted no.

The grant to Artpark would not pay for its popular concert series, but rather for programs such as a street theater performance called the Fairy Tales Festival, a special production of “Hansel and Gretel,” and a Brazilian outdoor dance festival.

Executive Director Sonia Clark said she’s trying to use the money and these projects to build a base for future arts programs. “Next year, we may not need it,” she said.

“She’s got a new vision for Artpark the town wants to support,” Lewiston Supervisor Steve Broderick said.

Angelo Massaro, attorney for the Niagara Falls School District, questioned the eligibility of art programs for Greenway funding. “We’re opening up a new area. We’re going to get an awful lot of requests,” he said.

But Falls School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco, chairwoman of the committee, said money was granted for Artpark programs in 2010 and 2012, so the precedent had been set.

The Town of Niagara project is focused on the so-called Weber property, a 36.9-acre wetland parcel along Cayuga Creek south of Niagara Falls International Airport. It’s owned by Joseph C. Weber Inc. and is surrounded by residential and commercial development.

The town would own the land, but Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper will coordinate the restoration work with help from the Western New York Land Conservancy. Jajean Rose-Burney, development director of the Conservancy, said the planning process will cost about $110,000, and construction, set for 2017, will cost $300,000 to $350,000.

“Some of the most expensive homes in the Town of Niagara are near that land,” Supervisor Lee S. Wallace said. “They’ve had two 100-year floods in three years. When I took office, they told me it couldn’t be fixed. Well, it can be fixed.”

Weber is expected to donate the property this spring or summer. Early plans call for work in the creek channel to reduce sediment and provide spawning habitat for fish species such as northern pike. The work also would alleviate flooding in the neighborhood.