We need government

Dear Islanders,

I love Niagara Falls, and I love that feeling of coming out of the mist, through the rainbows, to see the Falls in all its magnificence and thunder. Too often we take this wonder for granted.

Many people recently saw the black sludge spewing out into the Niagara River just beyond the Falls. It is a disgrace. But is it dangerous? I don’t know. Don’t forget the smell that hits you at night when you are driving across Niagara Falls. Is that dangerous? Who knows. We just keep driving.

Invisible toxins

Some of you may know that Western New York played a large part in the development of atomic weapons. Much of the research for the Manhattan Project was done in Manhattan, New York. But much of the testing (and other highly confidential work) was done in Niagara Falls and the surrounding areas.

As a result, there are toxic waste dumps. There is one near Lewiston so dangerous it is reserved for the most lethal forms of waste. Remember when Tom Brokaw had an envelope of anthrax delivered to his desk? That desk is eternally entombed in a Niagara County dump.

Not all the dangerous or radioactive waste here comes from the old defense projects. It may also be a byproduct of metal alloy production or other forms of industry. But this stuff (this hot, dangerous, cancer causing stuff) was sold as fill for driveways and parking lots and even for the foundations of homes! And every day, particle by particle, it is floating into the skin and bones of those who live by it. 

500 grand grant

Most of these hotspots can be cleaned up relatively easily. The EPA was working on it, but they stopped for some reason. So, this past weekend I stood with Senator Schumer, demanding that they restart their work. It’s not too late to clean this up; it’s not too late to clean up all of Western New York, including the archaic infrastructure that lies below our town and pushes wastewater into the river.

We are working on it. You may not notice, but we are. We are also doing other things to make Grand Island cleaner. I’m so proud of my good friend and leader Diane Evans — and the entire Conservation Advisory Board — for working with Waterkeeper (formerly Riverkeeper) to obtain a $500,000 grant to restore Spicer Creek.

This grant will add Spicer Creek, which lies near the River Oaks Golf Course, to the list of land we have worked with the Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Land Conservancy to secure and protect. Grand Island is becoming whole again.

We need the invisible network: government

People live and work together because pooling resources and skills is effective. The fantasy of zero government exists on both the far left and the far right. In some places it’s not just a political dream, it’s a tragic reality. Go to Somalia or Afghanistan. They don’t have taxes there, but they don’t fill potholes either. And there is not much concern expressed over dumping waste into their rivers.

Our Town government works as a behind-the-scenes network fixing potholes, plowing streets, mending laws and resolving complaints. People complain about taxes, but they complain a whole lot more when potholes don’t get filled. We take it for granted, but that’s government: hundreds of people working together to keep everything running smoothly. The Town works because we invest in it.

Long-term plans

The feasibility study for the community center is nearly complete, and it looks like a vision is coming together. The community seems to want a turf field in or near Veterans Park, a common space near the Town center, and subtle improvements to the Golden Age Center. We will talk more, but that all makes sense.

To move forward and make our town stronger, we need a long-term perspective. We have to see beyond the current waves and games of the moment. I am embarrassed by the discussion we had a few weeks ago regarding taxes. It was such a show. It was designed to scare and shame rather than promote public understanding.

The debate was more reminiscent of the note passing and bullying I saw in high school than of a planning meeting in the professional world. I sincerely hope the rest of our budget sessions do not unfold in the same manner.

We can’t heal or protect Grand Island if we continue on that course. The empty buildings will remain. The sludge in the river will flow faster. The Nike Base will slowly crumble. But I promise you, Grand Island, that we don’t need to go that way. All of it — a cleaner Island, a better Island, and even a fiscally stronger Island — is right there before us, if we can just get through the mist to the rainbows and thunder.

 

Highest regards,

Nate McMurray