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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

The Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope traveled by bus to the Dormitory Authority's local office on Franklin Street to protest a grant to Niagara Falls Redevelopment.

Grants for Billionaires

Monday was a bitter-cold day for a picket line, so the members of Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, or NOAH, can be grateful that the staff at the local office of the New York State Dormitory Authority were so accommodating.

There were 10 members of NOAH at the authority’s office on Franklin Street Monday morning, asking to make an appointment with one of the outfit’s Albany leaders to discuss a $400,000 grant to Eleventh Street Properties, a subsidiary of Niagara Falls Redevelopment, headed by billionaire Manhattan developer and banker Howard Milstein. The grant, intended to fund demolitions on the vast tracts of dilapidated property NFR owns in downtown Niagara Falls, was secured by outgoing State Senator Antoine Thompson and is to be distributed through the Dormitory Authority. The money would also be used to turn the old Maggadino funeral parlor into an “administrative, operations and preview center for the Niagara Falls Gateway Redevelopment Project,” according to the grant application.

The members of NOAH, a coalition of faith-based groups, think that Milstein’s company doesn’t need or deserve scarce public money, having sat on its property for more than a decade without building or rehabbing a thing. NFR’s inertia was recently chronicled in an article in Business Week by Andrew Rice, and then again in a Buffalo News story last weekend by Denise Jewell Gee.

The activists arrived in a bus belonging to the First Presbyterian Church of Niagara Falls, led by the Reverend David Crapnell, who acted as the group’s spokesman. They were quickly ushered into a conference room, and before long a PR person from Albany, Susan Barnett, was on speakerphone, asking how she could help.

Crapnell and NOAH’s lead organizer, Eric Fergen, explained their exasperation with the awarding of the grant to Milstein, who they said has done nothing but allow his ownings to slide further into decline, when there were so many other urgent needs for public money. Barnett sounded sympathetic, but suggested that they might be barking up the wrong tree: The Dormitory Authority was the conduit through which the money would be delivered, but the decision to award the money likely came from elsewhere. She promised, however, to arrange a conference call between NOAH members and the Dormitory Authority and the Office of Budget to discuss the activists’ concerns.

That conference call was a success: NOAH will travel to Albany in January to meet state officials. (gk)

How's Another $20K Going to Help You?

State Senator Antoine Thompson announced that $400,000 grant in September, shortly after he’d beaten off his challengers in the Democratic primary. Ahead loomed Republican Mark Grisanti, who would eventually edge Thompson in the general election by fewer than 600 votes. In September, Thompson, the incumbent in the heavily Democratic 60th District, wasn’t concerned about Grisanti’s candidacy; by mid to late October, he was worried, and Democratic money started pouring in from around the state to protect the seat.

We’re told that a couple weeks before the election, Thompson tried to wrangle some campaign money out of Niagara Falls Redevelopment through political operative Steve Pigeon. (NFR’s president is Roger Trevino, a Pigeon ally.) Thompson was turned down, and not long after that he lashed out at Pigeon in a comment to Bob McCarthy of the Buffalo News: “I’m sure the voters of Western New York will see through the right-wing extremist tactics of Mark Grisanti, Steve Pigeon, Joel Giambra and Senate coup ringmaster George Maziarz.” (gk)

Shuffling Party Lines

The New York State Board of Elections certified the results of November’s elections this week, even as the results on the 7th State Senate District and 100th Assembly District continue to be litigated.

The final tallies will precipitate some changes in where third party lines are situated on ballots in the next four years. Carl Paladino and Greg Edwards won 232,264 votes on the Conservative Party line, which means Conservative candidates will occupy the third line on the ballot, behind the Democrats and the Republicans. The Working Families Party line finished fourth (154,847 votes).

The Independence Party finished fifth (146,646 votes) despite having the third-largest registration in the state, behind the Democrats and Republicans. The party drops two spots as a result.

The Conservatives can thank Paladino and Edwards, and a strong upstate turnout among party members, for the party’s gain.

The Green Party’s Howard Hawkins pulled in 59,928 votes, securing his party’s place on the ballot for the next four years, while the Libertarian Party’s Warren Redlich fell just short of the 50,000-vote cutoff: Libertarian candidates will have to petition their way onto the ballot for the next four years.

The Taxpayers line, created by Paladino, drew just 25,820 votes—better than the Anti-Prohibition Party’s Kristin Davis (20,429 votes), but worse than Jimmy McMillian of the Rent is 2 Damn High Party (41,131 votes) and Charles Barron of the Freedom Party (24,572 votes).

Clean water? Not in our lifetimes. But a dredging project aims to improve the Buffalo River.

Buffalo River Dredging

It’s wintertime and the snow is piled high. Blue, red, and green lights flicker across porches and windows. Across the street, the Buffalo River runs silent and dark directly into Lake Erie. Old factories line the lakeshore, reminders of an industrial past. But abandoned warehouses aren’t the only legacy left behind.

The benthic sediment of the Buffalo River is loaded with what the EPA is calling chemicals of concern (COC), most notably polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mercury, and lead. The highest concentrations found in sediment samples were located between the lake shore and six miles upriver from the lake, with 45 known hazardous waste deposits dotting the area of concern (AOC) throughout. PAHs can be carcinogenic and may cause birth defects. Lead is a toxic heavy metal that compromises the nervous system. PCBs are known carcinogens. Mercury is highly toxic and, along with lead and PCBs, is often found in high concentrations in fish. Heavy metals and PCBs accumulate in fat and tissues, increasing in concentration moving up the food chain. Exposure to these harmful chemicals is believed to have caused lesions and tumors in fish living in the river. The EPA cautions anglers to limit the number of fish consumed from the Buffalo River and Lake Erie. Eighty-seven percent of brown bullhead fish sampled in the river exhibited external deformities, lesions, and/or tumors.

The general consensus is that natural recovery is insufficient. The chemicals polluting the river cannot be left to degrade on their own because they bioaccumulate in the food chain and don’t break down very easily. Dredging the river and the nearby ship canal has been deemed the most effective means of restoring the waterways. But that may add short-term woes to the restoration efforts. “My guess is the entire ecosystem will be disturbed for a year or two,” says Martin Doster, remediation engineer for the Department of Environmental Conservation. But that disturbance is necessary if the situation is going to be fixed. The team is also focusing their efforts on improving the shoreline. “We’re meeting with shoreline property owners, letting them know what’s going on. We’re taking out areas that are affecting the rest of the river, then rebuilding them to mimic nature,” Doster says.

The proposed remediation project would remove one million cubic yards of sediment. The planners of this project are trying to take every possibility into consideration. “If we need to put containment booms in place, we will,” says Jill Jedlicka, director of ecological programs at Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. She says that the risk of contaminants entering Lake Erie is minimal. “Even if sediment does get re-suspended in the water temporarily, it will fall back down because it’s so heavy. It won’t make it out into the lake. There’s no risk of this affecting water intakes, and there’s no risk of it affecting drinking water at all.”

One of the private sector players in this project is Honeywell. Honeywell is the successor to Buffalo Color Corporation, one of the industries responsible for the contaminants in the river. “Honeywell is assisting with cleanups,” confirms Doster. “We’re in conversation with Exxon-Mobil, who own an old refinery off Elk Street. They’ve been cleaning up their property there.” Jedlicka agrees that the cleanup has brought together strange partners. “We’ve got local expertise, federal expertise, and the private sector, all putting in thousands of work hours. We all have the common goal of economic and ecological recovery of the river.”

Local residents at the meeting were both hopeful and skeptical. “I hope this happens. I really do,” says Mike Kless. “I like what they’re doing. My big concern is this is going to be another Peace Bridge.” Hyde Hitchcock was slightly more cynical. “There’s been no industry on the lake shore since 1980. The thing nobody wants to address is the pollution from the farming communities upstream.”

The ongoing waste input is an issue that warrants concern. Most of the damage seen is the result of historical dumping, but 180 industries currently have permission to release waste into city sewers. The Buffalo River is lined with more than 30 combined sewage overflow (CSO) points that emit human waste and anything else that’s down in the city’s sewers, including what the aforementioned industries discharge down the drain. Even if the industrial waste is deemed safe, there’s still a potentially steady source of human waste being funneled into the river when stormy weather causes overflows. This waste then travels downriver and into the lake, the city’s main source of drinking water, fishing, and recreation. Runoff from farmland upriver may add additional nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer. Sewage and agricultural runoff can cause algal and cyanobacterial blooms, which produce a number of toxins that are harmful to humans and which impact fish and other wildlife. Followup studies in the future may need to address the discharge from sewers and the non-point source runoff from agricultural operations surrounding the Buffalo River watershed. (bp)

The GLF/Agway grain elevators, parts of which a demolition company wants to dismantle.

The GLF Grain Elevator

Last week, Ontario Specialty Contracting, of Ganson Street in Buffalo, filed a request with the city for permission to demolish parts of Grange League Federation grain elevator. The city’s Preservation Board will hear the request today (December 16) at 3pm in Room 901 of City Hall. The company is likely to run into opposition there. (“The answer’s ‘no,’” Preservation Board member Tim Tielman told WIVB News.) The Common Council ultimately will decide.

Ontario Specialty Contracting bought the historic complex of grain elevators last October; in the permit application, the company’s officials say they purchased the property because parts of it were falling down and posed a risk to its operations and its employees. The GLF elevators date back to 1908, when the Wheeler elevator began operations. The Grange League Federation, a grain cooperative that eventually merged with another cooperative to form Agway, took over in the 1920s. The complex has been idle for more than 30 years. (gk)

Punishing Patricia Lynch

Last week, New York’s Attorney General and Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo levied a multipart punishment on Patricia Lynch Associates, as a result of his continuing investigation into pay-to-play allegations during former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s stewardship of the state and local government pension fund. Hevesi was the sole trustee of the pension fund, and Lynch plied him with “gifts, favors, and campaign contributions” to secure pension fund investment business for clients, according to Cuomo.

Lynch is a former advisor to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and, as a lobbyist, is generally regarded as the preferred intermediary for those who want Silver’s ear. The firm will pay a $500,000 fine for its transgressions, and for five years be banned from lobbying the comptroller’s office or dealing with public pensions in any way.

Lynch also sat on the Town of Porter planning board that commissioned an award-winning report issued in 2002 by Dr. Ute Lehrer’s University at Buffalo study group. “Towards a Smart Growth Comprehensive Plan: Assessment and Recommendations for the Town of Porter” called for, among other measures, the immediate closure and relocation of the Lewiston-Porter schools due to contamination found on the school grounds and the campus’s proximity to massive amounts of waste, including radioactive materials at the nearby Niagara Falls Storage Site and Chemical Waste Management sites. (CWM is a client of Lynch’s firm.) The recommendation was expurgated, the report was buried, and a commercial planning company was hired in its place. No public mention of the recommendation to close the schools was made again. (gk & lr)

Bass Pro Sans Bas Pro:

Today (Thursday, December 16), Empire State Development Corporation votes whether to approve the modified general project plan proposed by its subsidiary, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, for the Canal Side project. The plan remains largely intact, despite the outcry of the last several months: The parking ramp for the Aud site is postponed but not eliminated, and ECHDC promises to make its replica canals as authentic as is feasible. The rest remains essentially the same.

geoff kelly, brian pietrus, louis ricciuti

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