As you may have read here in the Dispatch last week, I recently had the opportunity to appear before the Greenway Commission to ask for funding for the DeGlopper Memorial Project. The Commission agreed 10-2 that the project is “consistent” with the Greenway vision and should proceed to the next step, where they determine the amount of funding we receive. Passing the “consistency” stage was a relief. But the Greenway could still come back and say, “Give them nothing.” Or they could come back and say, “Give them all the money they need to finish the memorial.” We will have to wait to find out.
What is the Greenway?
“The Niagara River Greenway Plan” began in 2004. The Greenway vision is to create a “greenway,” or network, of interconnected parks, river access points, and waterfront trails along the Niagara River. Republican Governor George Pataki started it. The money for the West River Project comes from it. So does the money for the Scenic Woods Project. The idea is simple. Reclaim the river for recreation and preservation. Do not leave it to industrial decline, corporate negligence, and private abuse.
The Greenway Plan is funded by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) — the people who run the power plant hanging over the gorge. In 2007, the NYPA agreed to pay $9 million a year for 50 years ($450 million total) to fund local projects in exchange for the impact of removing large amounts of water from the river. That’s the deal. It sounds pretty good, but how has that deal worked out for Grand Island?
Grand Island lacks Greenway Projects
I have a pin with the Greenway Commission logo. It has a green bottom and a blue top, with a curvy line, representing the Niagara River, through the middle. That pin is missing something — Grand Island. That is fitting. Hear me out. Over the last decade, despite having two Supervisors who actually sat on the Greenway Commission and having the premier Greenway event (Paddles Up) take place here every year, we have very few Greenway Projects.
Please remember, we are in a competition for those Greenway funds. Other cities and towns have benefitted greatly from the Greenway money, which is used to improve the standard of living in an ecologically-minded manner. Our Town is missing out on millions in infrastructure and beautification because we have not been aggressive about seeking Greenway funds. Since I became Supervisor, we have changed that, and this latest effort for the DeGlopper Memorial is another ambitious step.
The Commission is leery
Obtaining funding for the DeGlopper Memorial, however, will be a challenge. Why? The Greenway folks wants to spend money on preservation — not statues and memorials. While I was presenting before the Commission one man commented, “We paid for our war memorial entirely from contributions in Tonawanda. Why can’t Grand Island?” I pointed out the population differences between our two towns. I also pointed out the considerable efforts already carried out by the citizens of Grand Island. He switched his vote, but others were not so easily persuaded.
The overriding message was that a memorial miles from the waterfront has nothing to do with the Greenway Vision and will not drive people to enjoy the Niagara River. In other words, they were saying “Nice try. But this is no Greenway Project.”
Still, I fought. I made the point that the whole Island is part of the Greenway. I pointed out that we have a million-dollar grant for pedestrian access which will help lead people across the Island — from Beaver to Buckhorn, waterfront to waterfront — and that this memorial will be a destination for those taking that trip. I even talked about the sacrifice of Charles DeGlopper and how history can be a source of tourism — as demonstrated by Susan Geissler’s creations in Lewiston: the Tuscarora Heroes Monument and the Freedom Crossing Monument. (Geissler is the sculptor selected to create the DeGlopper Memorial statue.) Both of those statues were paid for with Greenway money and are among the most-photographed sites in Western New York.
A friend helped Grand Island
Although I tried my best, we would have likely have failed the consistency review if it were not for a friend to Grand Island. Who was that friend? Mark Thomas of the New York State Parks.
I feel it important to mention him because Mr. Thomas was unfairly vilified last year by some of those opposed to the West River Multi-Use Trail. All sorts of incorrect and awful things were said about him, when in reality, he carefully considered every comment from the public and weighed every fact. He remained a calm and objective leader throughout the minutiae.
midst of the debate regarding the memorial he boldly stated that Grand Island deserved more of the Greenway’s attention. He spoke of its natural beauty and the need for preservation. He said that he was personally touched by the story of Charles DeGlopper, and that he knew how much the project meant to to the people of Grand Island.
I was moved by Mr. Thomas’ words. I’m proud to know him.
The fight would have already ended without the help of that good man. I know it’s easy to disparage people and burn bridges, but it’s a lot better to have those bridges intact when we need them. In this case, it helped us get further in our fight to honor a heroic young man who, not long ago, sacrificed his life on D-Day on a little bridge over the Merderet River in France.