The Partnership for the Public Good has released a report titled “The Niagara River Greenway: Fulfilling the Promise.” In 2004, New York state passed legislation to create a “linear system of state and local parks and conservation areas linked by a network of multi-use trails” to connect Lake Erie to Lake Ontario along the Niagara River.
Nine years later, some progress has been made on the Greenway, but, according to the PPG report, only about half of $46 million in funds allocated has gone toward projects that advance the Greenway as defined by the state law. Many of the projects funded – such as renovations to the Palace Theater in Lockport or to the Lewiston-Porter School District’s athletic complex – may be worthy projects but do not help create a linear system of parks and trails.
According to the report’s lead author, PPG co-director Sam Magavern, “One reason for the mission creep is that the Greenway Plan defines the Greenway much more broadly than the law did.” This very broad Plan, according to Magavern, opened the door to projects far from the River, such as streetscape improvements in Sanborn.
From the Report:
When NYPA reached the settlement agreements in 2005 and 2006, the focus of Greenway funding was clearly on the Greenway as a linear system of parks and trails, as specified by the legislation. The Relicensing Settlement Agreement uses the same definition of “Niagara River Greenway” as the legislation. But there was surprisingly little coordination between the legislative process and the settlement process, and the settlements set up a system outside of the NRGC to create the Greenway.
Most importantly, the settlement agreements did not fund the NRGC’s operations and did not give the NRGC any control over the Greenway funds. Rather, each of the four Standing Committees separately reviews proposals for Greenway funding – each according to its own criteria and schedule. While funding applicants must consult with the NRGC, and while the Committees must find that the proposals are consistent with the Greenway Plan, the Committees need not follow the NRGC’s advice. As a result, the Greenway development is splintered and lacks a unifying focus and a strategy to prioritize and phase in projects.
The report includes many recommendations, including amending the state law to clarify that Greenway funds may only be used for the linear system of parks, conservation areas and trails. Magavern created the report with the assistance of seventeen SUNY Buffalo law students.
Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, commented, “Riverkeeper has been working on the protection, restoration and improved access to the Niagara River for over two decades, and played a key role in the negotiation of the relicensing agreement that established the Niagara River Greenway, Our region deserves a world-class Greenway that both protects the river’s ecological integrity and creates community connections to the river, and we support PPG’s efforts to evaluate and improve the implementation of the Greenway Plan.”
PPG reported its findings to the Niagara River Greenway Commission at its March 19 meeting. The report is also available at the Partnership for the Public Good web site, www.ppgbuffalo.org.