Tonawanda News — A preservation group has filed a preliminary injunction in State Supreme Court in Niagara County in an attempt to stop work being performed at the site of the former Schoellkopf Power Station.
Members of the Niagara Preservation Coalition snapped photos posted online last week of mangled steel girders they say were ripped from the power plant as it tumbled into the gorge 57 years ago being loaded into a Dumpster for metals reclamation by construction crews. Workers are currently busy converting the historic site into a new docking facility for the Maid of the Mist Corp.
Louis Ricciuti, president of the not-for-profit preservation coalition, said he recognizes the exact girder in the posted photos that was being loaded into a bin with other materials to be scrapped, as he has climbed over it hundreds of times while hiking the site.
“It’s outrageous, what they’re doing,” Ricciuti said.
Ricciutti said the girder can be seen in historic photos from inside the power plant. It was the one of the first of its kind when poured in the early 1920s and was so big it had to be poured in parts and pieced together.
To see the girder being loaded into a scrap bin is painful for Ricciuti as he has been fighting to preserve the Schoellkopf site for future generations, he said.
“That’s my historic legacy being loaded into that Dumpster,” Ricciuti said. “It’s going to be smelted down to go into lawn furniture and Toyotas.”
In response to questions about Ricciuti’s concerns Friday evening, Connie Cullen, director of media relations for the New York Power Authority, said an inventory of historic features is kept as part of the site’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places and officials from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and discussing plans for what will be done with them. She said site workers have been instructed on what to look for during construction and have brought objects to NYPA’s attention for evaluation.
“Objects related to electric generation are critically important to preserve as changes in technology happen quickly,” Cullen said. “Everyday objects with a direct connection to the worker experience are also evaluated. The steel girders are typical of those used in the commercial and industrial buildings constructed in the region during the time the Schoellkopf plant was built. However, drawings of the structures showing the girders have been preserved, so a record of their use remains.”
Ricciuti said construction crews shouldn’t be taking anything out of the gorge at all, as the site was supposed to be an “encapsulated preservation,” meaning that the site would be covered in concrete and could be dug up later as it was when the collapse occurred, according to papers filed with the federal government.
“I wasn’t in favor of that, but I’m certainly less in favor of this,” Ricciuti said.
The power authority owns the Schoellkopf site and state parks is responsible for protecting it as an historical site in New York.
The coalition previously sued the Maid of the Mist, the power authority, state parks and other state entities involved in the conversion of the site and New York State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Boniello III put a temporary restraining order in place, haling the work, in April.
That restraining order was lifted on procedural grounds about a week later by New York State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent-Panepinto, who presided over the case. The coalition lawsuit charged that the state’s work would desecrate the nationally registered historic site, that the site may have been environmentally compromised and that Maid of the Mist Corp.’s 40-year, no-bid deal with state parks violated the state’s open bidding laws.
Ricciuti said the groups attorney, Linda R. Shaw, filed an injunction Friday afternoon in an attempt to try and stop the state entities from further disrupting the site.
“They’re not going to destroy this history without a fight,” Ricciuti said.
If the group is successful in securing the preliminary injunction, it could delay work on the site for months. That could present a significant challenge to the Maid of the Mist’s plans as the company needs to have an operational storage facility in place on the American side by November.
The boat tour company lost the rights to run the concession on the Canadian side of the gorge after being outbid by Hornblower Cruises and Entertainment, a California-based company.