By Justin Sondel
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — NIAGARA FALLS — U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins wants the New York Power Authority to pay for the removal of the Robert Moses Parkway.
Using the Niagara Gorge as a backdrop while standing in front of an elevated section of the parkway near the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, the Buffalo Democrat, whose Congressional district now includes the city of Niagara Falls, announced plans Thursday to seek $120 million from the power authority to finance removal efforts along the northern and southern parkway sections.
Higgins described the “poorly utilized roadway” as both a physical and economic barrier to the “renaissance” of Niagara Falls while suggesting that the authority should pay for the implementation of community-based removal plans.
“We believe that will unleash the extraordinary potential of Niagara Falls, N.Y., as a great waterfront city drawing those millions of people who visit Niagara Falls, Canada every single year,” Higgins said.
Higgins outlined his proposal in a 14-page plan called “The Niagara Falls Waterfront: NYPA’s Responsibility for the Robert Moses Parkway.” The plan includes historical information about the roadway, the authority’s role in its development and data on authority revenues. He delivered a copy of his proposal to NYPA Chairman John Koelmel on Thursday.
The congressman said the authority evicted residents through eminent domain and built the highway that now stands as a barrier between the city and the water. As a result, he believes the authority should pay to remove the road and rebuild the area.
A spokesperson from the power authority declined to comment on Higgins’ plan, but later sent out a two-sentence statement.
“We just received Congressman Higgins’ letter on the Robert Moses Parkway and will review it,” the statement said. “We will respond in a timely manner and will continue to have an open dialogue with the congressman as we have in the past.”
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is expected to reveal its recommended options for the future of the northern section later this month. A consultant working with state parks presented a total of six options for the roadway for public review, including options to leave it as is and total removal from the Falls north to Lewiston.
The southern section has been eyed for several changes aimed at making it more pedestrian friendly and less of an obstacle to waterfront access.
Higgins said the key to any plan is the money needed to carry it out.
Only $5 million is currently available for the south section redesign — too little to carry out the actual construction. The $120 million request by his office represented an estimate of what he believes will be needed to make the sort of progress on renewal efforts that he said the city needs and deserves.
“This is something that’s very doable,” Higgins said.
The Niagara Power Project in Lewiston has been key to the authority’s profitability and Higgins said more than $1 billion from the facility has been used in the past six years to fund operations elsewhere within the authority’s system.
In 2008 alone the authority had a surplus of $309 million, of which $236 million, or 76 percent, came from the Niagara facility, according to documents from the authority.
“We have a rightful claim to that money,” Higgins said.
Higgins, who was instrumental in negotiating a 2007 licensing agreement between the power authority for Buffalo’s waterfront redevelopment, said he can use the relicensing of a downstate power project as leverage to get NYPA to pay for the parkway’s removal.