Rep Brian Higgins (D- NY 27th) calls on NYPA to pay for removal of Robert Moses Parkway
NIAGARA FALLS, NY - He's long lead the charge to tear down the Buffalo skyway...and now Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY 27th) vows to use his Congressional muscle to get rid of the Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls.
Both the northern section of the Parkway along the Niagara Gorge, and its southern section above the famous Falls has been viewed by some for decades as a "concrete moat" separating the Cataract City from its waterfront, thereby impeding economic development in an area.
"When you look at economic development as we've experienced on the Buffalo waterfront, the fundamentals are very clear," said Higgins, who began representing Niagara Falls two weeks ago.
"You have to remove the remove the barriers to access."
The Parkway's removal has been studied for years, and within weeks, the New York State is due to release design plans for what might exist there instead of an expressway.
However, there's always the question of money.
"The big challenge to whatever option is selected is going to be to finance a project of considerable magnitude," said Higgins.
An estimated $120 million is needed, and Higgins believes that since the New York Power Authority (NYPA) owns all the land the parkway sits on, it should pay the tab.
"They're the ones who back in the 1950's and 60's took this land, and evicted all the property owners. They paid for the construction of this and they should pay for the demolition of it as well," Higgins said.
Higgins sent his proposal (which you can read here) to NYPA Chairman John Koelmel, who is also President of First Niagara Bank and like Higgins a Western New Yorker, but he's yet to hear back from him.
Two On Your Side attempted to contact Koelmel about Higgins' proposal, but a First Niagara spokesperson referred us instead to the power authority.
NYPA spokesman Michael Saltzman, reached by phone, declined an interview request, instead emailing a brief statement which read:
"We just received Congressman Higgins' letter on the Robert Moses Parkway and will review it. We will respond in a timely manner and continue to have an open dialogue with the Congressman as we've done so in the past."
Higgins insists money should be no problem for NYPA.
"The New York power Authority, at the end of 2008 alone, had a surplus of $309 million of which which, 76% came from the Niagara Power Project," said Higgins, while claiming the Niagara Power Project is the only one of NYPA's generating operations which makes a substantial amount of money, and therefore supports its other operations throughout the state.
He also insisted the Niagara Power Project, which harnesses the waters of the Niagara River to generate hydroelectric energy, should not be viewed as a "statewide" asset.
"It is the unique, natural resources of Western New York which make that power project possible...we have a rightful claim to that money," Higgins said.
Indeed, when NYPA needed federal approval to relicense the Niagara Power Project a few years ago, Higgins' support hinged on NYPA's contribution of millions of dollars for Buffalo's waterfront.
He also noted that another NYPA hydroelectric plant, the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project in Schoharie County, is also up for renewal soon.
"They have to request a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That's the leverage that I used as a member of the United States Congress to help secure the (prior) $279 million settlement for Buffalo and Western New York. I am prepared to use that leverage again."
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dave Harrington. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2