Tonawanda News

September 13, 2013

Marine crane delivery marks Maid site progress

By Justin Sondel justin.sondel@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — NIAGARA FALLS — The Maid of the Mist got a big delivery on Thursday.

The company that has run the boat fleet that takes visitors to the bottom of the falls received the components of a marine crane it will need to take its boats out of the water this fall for winter storage.

The massive German crane made its way from Europe to the former Schoellkopf Power Station site where the company is constructing a new dry dock facility. 

The crane was shipped into Canada and then crossed over the Peace Bridge in Buffalo before arriving in parts on flatbed trucks at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center parking lot Thursday morning.

Kevin Keenan, a spokesman for Maid of the Mist, said the company was happy to see the crane delivered, as it is a symbol of the progress that construction crews are making on the dry docks.

Maid of the Mist lost its right to operate the attraction on the Canadian side of the gorge — where the winter storage facility exists — to California cruise boat company Hornblower Cruises & Events.

The Niagara Parks Commission, the provincial agency that runs the parks system in Ontario, opened the contract to run the attraction to bidding after receiving complaints from companies during negotiations to renew a contract with the Maid of the Mist in 2009.

Hornblower will begin operating the attraction in Ontario next spring and will gain rights to the facilities at the beginning of 2014.

Hornblower’s 30-year contract with the parks commission will see the company pay the province $500 million over the duration of the agreement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the Maid of the Mist would invest $32 million into a new docking facility on the former Schoellkopf Power Station site, which is owned by the New York Power Authority and overseen by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, so that the company could continue operating the attraction under its 40-year agreement with the state signed in 2002.

That contract — which was negotiated without an open bidding process — was amended to include terms under which the Maid would be able to use the site for boat storage while also “enhancing” the historic site. The company also agreed to pay an additional $105 million to the state over the remaining 29 years of the contract.

Vinny Jowdy is a project manager for LP Ciminelli, the construction company hired to oversee the work at the site.

He said the crane will be lowered into the gorge in pieces by the giant triple-eight ringer crane that was installed at the edge of the gorge this spring.

The marine crane, painted turquoise to match the color of the water in the gorge, weighs 157 tons in total.

Jowdy expects the components of the crane to be lowered into the gorge by the end of September and for the machine to be ready to pull boats out of the water by the beginning of November.

The concrete pads where the boats will rest during the winter have been poured, he added.

“What we’re doing currently is basically filling in and pouring the rest of the concrete,” Jowdy said.

Jowdy said his crews have been working around the clock at times to ensure that the job is finished before winter hits.

“All jobs have deadlines and from the client’s point of view they’re all critical,” Jowdy said. “But, as kind of necessary as this, I haven’t (had as critical a deadline).”

The Maid of the Mist and state and federal agencies are currently fighting two legal battles over the use of the site.

Hornblower has sued in an effort to reopen the Maid’s contract with state parks to a bidding process arguing, amongst other reasons, that the new terms to the deal constitute a new contract and should be subject to the state’s competitive bidding laws.

That suit was struck down in State Supreme Court last month, but the company is appealing the ruling.

The Niagara Preservation Coalition, a preservation group formed after plans were announced to build on the historic site where power station buildings tumbled into the gorge in 1956, had sued the company and various state agencies in an effort to stop what they view as the destruction of the historic integrity of the site. The group has exhausted its legal options at the state level, but has continued its fight, suing federal agencies that oversee the use of the land on the grounds that, like the state agencies, they say pushed through review processes in order to appease Cuomo and other state officials.

Keenan said the company has no reservations about investing in the dock facility while court cases that could affect the Maid’s operations remain active because they are confident that they followed all state procedures and will be vindicated in court.

“A lot of smart, dedicated people at numerous state and federal agencies and other agencies have reviewed this project and thrown their support behind it,” Keenan said.

Keenan said the lower court decisions dismissing claims from both Hornblower and the Niagara Preservation Coalition are proof that the company and agencies acted properly.

“Every court that has looked at the project has determined that proper procedures were followed and allowed us to continue work,” Keenan said. “We’re confident that the proper procedures were followed and we have no reason to believe that our competition will be able to produce a different result.”

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257.