Tonawanda News

June 21, 2013

Court rules Maid work can continue

By Justin Sondel
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Work to convert the former Schoellkopf Power Station site into a boat storage facility for a local boat tour company will continue despite legal action from a preservation group.

The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division released a written decision dated June 18 denying the Niagara Preservation Coalition’s motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to stop work at the site.

Brian D. Gwitt, an attorney representing Maid of the Mist, called it proof that his client and their partners have been following state law while constructing the boat docks.

“We feel validated,” Gwitt said. “We have always been in the right. This project wasn’t put together haphazardly.”

Pete Gallivan, Western New York Communications Director for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, welcomed the decision as well. In December, Cuomo joined Maid of the Mist owner James Glynn in signing a memorandum of understanding that allowed the boat tour company to move forward with plans to build a new facility at the Schoellkopf site. The company has pledged to spend more than $30 million on the development of a docking and storage facility for its fleet as well as hiking trails and other tourist attractions. 

“We were pleased to learn of the decision to dismiss for the second time a motion for a preliminary injunction,” Gallivan said in a statement issued by his office. “This will allow this critical project to continue moving forward as we also engage the community for guidance in interpreting and telling the story of this important site.”

Linda R. Shaw, the coalition’s attorney, said she knew asking for a preliminary injunction was a reach as courts do not often halt work while an appeal is ongoing. She said she thought inconsistencies between documents filed with the state and federal governments related to the site, and the testimony of state experts, would be enough to convince the panel of judges that brought the decision.

“I think the papers show significant inconsistencies with their experts,” Shaw said.

The coalition sued Maid of the Mist in April in an attempt to stop construction on the site on the grounds that various state agencies were pushing the project through without adhering to public vetting processes related to the site’s historic significance and possible environmental contamination from the industrial work that occurred at the top of the gorge.

That suit was dismissed on procedural grounds by State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto, lifting a temporary restraining order that had stopped work on the site for about a week.

Shaw said that while work will continue while the appellate court is on summer recess, her clients will continue to pursue their appeal of Panepinto’s decision.

“It’s not like this is over in New York,” Shaw said. 

The coalition, through Shaw, filed the motion on June 7, asking the appellate division to halt work, alleging that Maid of the Mist and its contractor, LP Ciminelli, were disrupting the historic integrity of the state-owned site, which was added to the federally recognized National Register of Historic Places in February after a push from the state.

Louis Ricciuti, president of the coalition, photographed steel support beams that he said are significant historic remnants of the site as they were being loaded into a Dumpster. He posted the pictures on a photo sharing website for all to see. 

Ricciuti was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.