I have a million other things I’d like to address, but I need to provide another update on the West River path given recent events.
This week, the Town Board voted 3-2 to NOT support the NY State Park’s bike path proposal. The impact of this vote is unclear, because the Town does not have jurisdiction over State land. But a particularly chilling aspect of this vote was that they added language stating that the board never supported a proposal to close the parkway. The wording of the resolution was an effort to define the past and thus control the future through legislative edict. Even if the comparison is dramatic, I can’t force away the thought of the Ministry of Truth from 1984, where history is rewritten for political aims.
Rather than rewrite history, let’s understand it
I hate having to go through this again, but I came into office this year. If you think I had the power to shape and define a multi-million-dollar bike path proposal in that time, you broadly overestimate my powers. For years the town has requested and consulted on (through a series of resolutions and discussions) a bike path. There was never a set of all or nothing stipulations set out by any Town Board, and there have been multiple hearings and multiple versions of the path proposed. When I met with the State Parks in January, I asked them what they wanted to do and where the project stood. The State Parks told me they wanted to close the Parkway based on the totality of the circumstances (cost, feedback, impact). And I told the State Parks I would help close this long lingering deal—“Got it. Let’s get it done”, I said.
I took this plan back to the current Town Board—months ago. They were informed. I even drew the plans on the white board at Town Hall so I could generate input. Not one of them protested. Not a peep. In fact, I remember smiles. Further, not one of them took the steps I took to reach out to the State Parks or me to express concern. Over these months not one member of the board even called and said, “Hey Nate, I don’t like where we’re going on this. I don’t like the videos or the advocacy or any of it. Can we talk?” Theirs was a tacit acknowledgment that this was part of the process, and this was just another step in the evolution of a plan, long since approved by the town.
The Monday vote came out of nowhere
Councilman Madigan asked, last minute, that this item be placed on the workshop agenda for discussion without further elaboration. Why was it snuck onto a workshop agenda? There was ample opportunity (even since the last public hearing) to place this item on a formal Town Board Meeting agenda. But it just never happened. Councilman Madigan has strongly stated on several occasions his desire to NOT vote on matters of importance in workshops. I agree that we should vote upstairs on important issues—with the broadest audience possible. A 3-2 vote and an attempt to fix a historical position for the Town seems pretty darn important. Yet three of the board members went forward in this manner. Despite arguments from the other two, they nonchalantly casted aside their previous strong objections to workshop votes.
Let’s find a way
I agree with the current vision set out by the State Parks and by the Greenway. Closing the parkway is the least intrusive, most affordable, and best option for West River. And regardless of what happens with this path, the long-term future of the parkway will remain in question. That road should have never been built. And it will cost millions to repair and the number of cars don’t justify the investment by NY State Parks. And I think repurposing the parkway for this new use will open the river to enjoyment by more people and also remove a dangerous impediment to people’s access to the river.
Still, I would support another way forward if we found a plausible solution. I’m open to suggestions. What are some of our other options? Put the path in the middle? That cuts off winter sports and creates too much environmental impact. Put it beyond the Parkway? That will lead to guardrails to protect from the speeding cars. Put it on the service road? That will be too far from the river, thus obscuring the goal of the Greenway, and on a town road that you as taxpayers will have to pay to maintain. What I’m saying is that there’s always an excuse NOT to do something. We need to change that mentality on Grand Island. I’m open to anything. But we can’t continue this dance forever. We need to get things done.
I really wish the Town Board had come to me to say “I have a concern, but I want to help our town find a way— let’s find a solution together.” Instead, it seems some of the board was simply intent on shutting down the project out of spite. That is becoming a common feeling around here. Why can’t we just work together instead of against each other?
Special interests should not trump community interests
I’m also concerned that a faction of the Board on several occasions now has bent to the will of a small pocket of concern over the better interests of Grand Island. On Monday, the justification for the vote was that public opinion was firmly against the bike path plan. I would argue that is false. The majority of the opposition to this path comes from some West River home owners. I get that. But there are another 20,000 people on Grand Island and more in WNY who will benefit from this solution and we have heard from a ton of them that they support this (are excited even!)—many being West River home owners. We have to look at the big picture. And remember public opinion was firmly against trapping—throngs of people showed up to ask us to vote against it, but that did not stop the majority of the board from ignoring their pleas. How can they say they are representing the majority of Grand Island’s public opinion?
Popular public sentiment should certainly be a factor that is strongly considered, but alone it should not control the town board. For instance, there have been times in history that public sentiment has gone against moral values. We live in a democratic republic of which Alexander Hamilton wrote, “The republican principle . . . does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests.” Pertaining to our situation, if you use popular sentiment as a justification for your vote, then you should make sure you have a firm grip on popular sentiment.
I’m not even sure how my fellow board members made their determination that the public is against the latest version of the bike path proposal. We all now know that my colleagues never met with the State Parks as I did to review the years of comments. And I know, other than Councilman Kinney, no one has asked to review the many comments of support that have come to my office. Could it be that they simply listened to the handful of people who they know and who spoke loudest?
My vision is clear, I just need the votes
The agenda of your town leadership should be about economic development, building a community center, finding a way to have broadband for our schools, and making Grand Island a community that is open, forward thinking, and dynamic.
For too long our region has been plagued by leaders who fan our fears and insecurities while sacrificing the long-term interests of our region for the political expediency of the moment. I won’t do that. We are all proud of the changes in Buffalo to the waterfront, and we have the chance to add a green chapter to that emerging story along our riverfront. Don’t let this moment pass. Let’s find a way (not just for the bike path, but for the community center, renewable energy, etc) not only for our families today but for the inheritance we provide to future generations.
Thus, I ask you to stand up. I ask you to get involved. I ask you to call upon your leadership and demand we get things done instead of stopping progress dead in its tracks. Give ideas, suggestions and feedback. If there is a way, we will find a compromise—just as NY State Parks has done in this situation after hearing all your feedback. Go to www.gigov.com to get contact information for all the Town Board members. Make your voice heard. Ask them to work with me to find a way to get this done one way or another . . . NOW!
One final thought. I might not agree with each and every one of you and sometimes that stings, but I will always listen. Just because I don’t agree with you does not mean I don’t like you. But ultimately, I vow to always try to do what is best for Grand Island as a whole—not just what some think is best for one neighborhood, but all neighborhoods.
With highest regards,