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Small Talk

Food truck debate—hell on wheels: On Tuesday, the Common Council extended its year-old permitting system for those devilish food trucks that continue to pop up in our fair city. The consternation caused last year by food trucks among bricks-and-mortar restaurateurs has largely dissipated with time and familiarity, save for one holdout critic: Tucker Curtin, owner of the Steer, the Lake Effect Diner, and Dug’s Dive, has been waging a one-man war against the roving vendors, a campaign which met its Waterloo at Tuesday’s meeting of the Common Council’s Legislative Committee and a special session that followed. Curtin and his attorney proposed a draconian set of new regulations for food trucks, including these: No food truck may operate within 100 feet of any private property of any sort without express permission of the owner or tenants; no food truck may park within 25 feet of a hydrant, intersection, or driveway to a lot with more than 10 spots; all food trucks must have a restaurant license; on top of that, all food truck workers must have a peddler’s license; and food trucks would operate under special restrictions on Elmwood and Hertel, as they already do downtown, where Buffalo Place holds sway.

To all this, an audience member who had come to testify about landmarking Trico felt compelled to add her two cents. “It’s not your job to protect one business from another,” Deborah Lynn Williams said to the committee.

Hallelujah—so much of local government’s business would be simplified if that simple notion were among its guiding principles.

Happily, reasonable efforts to find a way to integrate the new mobile entrepreneurs into the city’s permitting scheme prevailed. New food trucks will pay an $800 licensing fee; existing food trucks will pay $500 to have their licenses renewed for a year. Food trucks will be prohibited from operating within 100 feet of the outside wall of a bricks-and-mortar restaurant while that restaurant is open for business. Buffalo Place will continue to enforce its own set of rules and collect special licensing fees. Neither advocates for the food trucks nor Curtin were fully satisfied by the outcome. (North District Councilman Joe Golombek, who has taken the lead on designing the new statute, said both sides took turns being angry with him through the process.) Perfect: The wheels of government turn.

Easter EG&G hunt: We saw a notice in Monday’s Niagara Gazette advertising an Easter egg hunt at the Niagara Arts & Cultural Center at the corner of Pine Avenue and Portage Road in Niagara Falls this Saturday. Sounded like fun—face painting, an Easter Bunny, raffles—but something about the location sounded a dire note.

When we hear that note, and the address that provokes it is in Niagara County, we turn to a couple standby references: radiological surveys conducted on behalf of the US Department of Energy in the 1970s by an engineering firm called EG&G and in the 1980s by Oak Ridge National Laboratories, both of which identified numerous radioactive hotspots throughout the county.

Bingo—both the Oak Ridge and the EG&G reports identify numerous radiological “anomalies” or hot spots on the NACC property, site of the former Niagara Falls High School. If those hot spots have been investigated or remediated in the past 30 years, it happened outside any existing regulatory framework. Nice place to bring the kids…

• The Partnership for the Public Good has just released a report analyzing how well the Niagara River Greenway Commission has performed the mission for which it was created in 2004: the creation of a greenway—“a linear system of state and local parks and conservation areas linked by a network of multi-use trails.” The report finds that about half of the $46 million the NRGC has spent since its creation—money that comes from the New York Power Authority—has been spent on projects that have noting to do with creation of such a greenway. An athletic complex for the Lewiston Porter Schools, for example, ate up $4.62 million.

PPG co-director Sam Magavern says, “One reason for the mission creep is that the Greenway Plan [which was adopted in 2007] defines the Greenway much more broadly than the law did.” The PPG report recommends that state law be amended so that the commission is restricted to spending funds that contribute directly to the completion and enhancement of a Niagara River greenway.

• Mayor Byron Brown’s re-election campaign picked up his first big endorsement this week: The Buffalo Niagara Partnership came out Monday in favor of Brown, just two days after the mayor formally announced he would seek re-election. In an email to BNP’s membership, the chamber of commerce’s lame-duck president and CEO, Andrew Rudnick, wrote that Brown “continues to be the right man for the job…no matter who else may enter into the race.” Now there’s a scientific mind at work. No condition might prevail that would alter BNP’s endorsement of Brown? Nothing? Rudnick called the endorsement a “no brainer.” If that’s so, then he’s the right man to make the call.

We hear that Christina Orsi, currently Western New York Regional Director for Empire State Development Corporation, is likely to succeed Rudnick as head of BNP.

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