Upstate NY

Who Will Pay For Niagara Falls To Run Dry?

For many people in Western New York, seeing a dry Niagara Falls will soon become a twice-in-a-lifetime event. The last time the falls was “de-watered” was 1969.

“I think this is a really fascinating opportunity sometime in the future for us to let the rest of the world to see what it looks like under the Falls.” Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul said. “I remember as a young child that this was going on and people went to see the attraction when the water was on and when it was off.”

Niagara Falls tourism officials are excited by the prospect as well. The water that goes over the American falls will be diverted in order to replace the historic Stone Arch bridges that connect tourists to Goat Island.

City leaders said they expect even more people to visit the city when the Falls are dry.

“Already just what has happened this week, with the news stories and the AP networks and the national news networks that I have spoken to, that is indicative that what is to come.” John Percy, President of Niagara Tourism & Convention, said.

But nobody knows exactly when that will happen. Mark Thomas, the Western District Director of the Office of State Parks, said the soonest the project could start would be 2019, if funding was secured in the very near future.

So far the Parks Office has only secured funding for the preliminary designs, which they showed off at an open house Wednesday night. The price tag for the rest of the project is upwards of thirty million dollars when construction, final design and administration costs are factored in.

Nobody’s exactly sure where all that money will come from.

“I think we don’t know right now other than we’re going to need money from a variety of sources,” Hochul said.

The funds will likely filter through the federal and state government but Thomas said not to factor out private investments too.

“We have all kinds of private fundraising efforts that go on at state parks where people have contributed significant sums of money to state park projects. We have one right here in Western New York. We raised over two million dollars for the Letchworth Nature Center, all private funding to match state funding,” Thomas said.

One thing local leaders agree on is the project in inevitable. The Parks Office says the bridges have already exceeded their life span and because of safety and environmental regulations, water will need to be diverted in order to replace them.

State Moves To Declare Superfund Site At Hoosick Falls

New York officials on Wednesday moved to the declare a state superfund site in Hoosick Falls amid growing concerns over the water contamination in the Rensselaer County village.

The move was announced by the Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker following a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and local officials.

Seggos at a news conference said the move was designed to “restore the public’s confidence in Hoosick Falls.”

New York will institute an emergency regulation that designates the chemical contaminate perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a hazardous chemical.

“This emergency regulation will allow the DEC to tap into its superfund authority both to investigate the extent of the contamination of PFOA in Hoosick Falls and more importantly to begin remediation,” Seggos said.

Still, state officials defended not taking action sooner in the area, which they learned about a possible contamination in December 2014, with more tests beginning in July 2015.

“Obviously we are trying to be and we will be more aggressive in trying to bring the level down” of the chemical Zucker said.

At the same time, Zucker insisted the move wasn’t a reversal of the state’s previous stance on the safety of water in the village.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned residents not to drink the water in the village. The announcement led to Mayor David Borge reversing his assessment of the water safety in Hoosick Falls, while the state urged residents to consume only bottled water.

Zucker insisted, however, that it was the state and not the federal government that was taking action.

“The federal government has had their level out there,” he said. “They haven’t taken action. As you know, this governor is not the most patient person. He said let’s get this done and let’s tackle this ourselves and we have.”

The announcement comes after PFOA was found in the drinking water in the village near the Vermont border. Local officials have come under scrutiny over how long they have known about the contamination, which is believed to have come from Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Plant facility in the area.

The action taken Wednesday will declare Saint-Gobain a superfund site, Zucker said.

“We are working hard to make sure that the public’s safety and the public’s health is addressed,” he added.

Niagara Falls Could Run Dry

The state parks system is considering a plan to temporarily shut off the American side of Niagara Falls within the next few years. That will be the topic of conversation at a public meeting at the Niagara Falls Convention Center, Wednesday.

De-watering the falls would allow workers to replace the 115-year-old bridges that connect tourist to Goat Island. It won’t be the first time engineers have diverted the water to the Horseshoe Falls in Canada.

“How they did it. They built that dam. It took a long time to turn it off. It wasn’t just overnight. They had to slowly build up that dam. It was about a six month period that the falls went dry and I think people were shocked that it could even be done,” former Niagara Falls City Historian Michelle Kratts said.

In 1969, the falls were emptied to study erosion. When the water ran dry, Kratts said they found a lot of things on the riverbed, from coins to a couple of bodies.

Oneida Indian Nation: New Emblem Coming For Whitesboro

whitesboroAfter voters in the village of Whitesboro voted to keep an emblem viewed as racist for its depiction of a white man and an Indian, the village’s mayor and the Oneida Indian Nation will meet to discuss the creation of a new seal for the community.

The controversy over the seal has gained national attention for the small upstate New York village and some unwanted ridicule from outlets like Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in the process.

The seal itself started to controversy last year, showing a white man with his hands over the neck of an American Indian.

“In speaking with a lot of the residents that voted to keep the seal, I think they were surprised at the negative attention that Whitesboro was receiving as a result of the vote,” said Whitesboro Mayor Patrick O’Connor. “They wanted to preserve history at the time of the vote, but also want to ensure that Village is seen as the inclusive place that it is.”

O’Connor in the statement provided by the Oneidas, said the descendants of the family who helped found the village have indicated they backed the plan to design a new emblem for Whitesboro.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our community to create its own piece of history that they can be proud of for the next 100 plus years to come. We are extremely fortunate to have members of the White Family and the Oneidas involved in this process.”

The decision to move forward with a new emblem was praised by Ray Halbritter, the Oneida Indian Nation representative and CEO.

“As we’ve always said, we are happy to work with anyone who wants to make sure the symbols they are promoting are honoring and respecting all people,” Halbritter said. “We applaud the Village leaders’ willingness to evaluate their own symbols and how to make sure they accurately reflect their community’s core values.”

Young’s Vote For Downstate Majority Leader Appears To Be Helping Her Upstate District

A Western New Yorker will make history this legislative session, becoming the first woman to chair the State Senate Finance Committee.

“Because this is one of the highest leadership positions in the state senate, it just gives me even more ability to be able to deliver.” Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, said.

Young has been in the legislature for nearly two decades and is immensely popular within her Southern Tier District. Still, she was criticized by some WNY Republicans, last year, for throwing her support for Majority Leader behind Long Island Senator John Flanagan instead of Syracuse-based John DeFrancisco.

At the time, some people were worried the decision would keep Senate interests and allocations downstate. Young’s appointment may be proving them wrong.

“It means a lot for Western New York and my entire senate district. It’s a position where I’m able to bring more attention to my communities, to my people. We have so many needs here,” she said.

As chairperson, Young will run the Senate’s 28 budget hearings. While her vote for Flanagan couldn’t have hurt, she believes she’s earned the job.

“I’ve served on the Senate Finance Committee for many years so I think with that basis of knowledge and experience, they had the confidence in me to name me to this most important position with the finance committee,” Young said.

Counties: Send Windfall Money To Upstate Infrastructure

The bulk of the $2.4 billion New York has received in recent months from major bank settlements should go toward upstate infrastructure projects — a proposal that is a priority for the New York State Association of Counties.

NYSAC on Monday released its list of legislative priorities for the coming 2016 legislative session, which included perennial calls for relief from burdensome required spending imposed by Albany on local governments.

The counties, though, are also pushing the state to spend most of the money on infrastructure upstate, putting the issue under a “must” for the coming legislative session, which begins on Wednesday with the state Assembly and Senate returning to the Capitol.

Prioritizing of upstate infrastructure spending from the bank settlements comes amid a concerted effort for “parity” in Department of Transportation capital spending following a boost in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s own capital projects fund last year.

Upstate elected officials, as well as construction-oriented organizations, have in recent months pushed state officials to back a boost in upstate infrastructure spending aimed at repairing and maintaining aging roads, bridges and sewer systems.

Last year, the state’s multi-billion windfall was divided up, with money sent to the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, an infusion of cash for the competitive economic development project proposals and money to avoid toll hikes on the state Thruway Authority.

Ny Sac 2016 Legislative Program by Nick Reisman

Syracuse Mayor Fetes Central New York’s Win

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner praised the Central New York regional economic development council’s victory on Thursday, which secured $500 million over the next several years.

The win for central New York comes after Miner, a former state Democratic Committee co-chairwoman, has publicly criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policies, including his proposal to smooth out pension costs as a way to alleviate local government costs.

Cuomo himself is not mentioned in the statement.

“Being awarded the $500 million from the Upstate Revitalization Initiative is an accomplishment for our region,” Miner said in a statement. “This funding has the potential to impact many projects throughout Central New York. I thank and congratulate our Regional Economic Development Council co-chairs, Rob Simpson and Chancellor Kent Syverud, and all those who worked on our region’s proposal serving on subcommittees, devoting their time and effort to this project.”

Miner has pushed in recent years for a renewed focus on upstate infrastructure projects, including her city’s troubled water and sewer system.

Cuomo in his remarks at the Regional Economic Development Council awards presentation pointedly said his goal wasn’t to help struggling local governments directly with more aid. For him, the answer is stimulating job growth.

“The state can’t subsidize local governments that can’t pay their bills,” he said.

Uber Adds Upstate Mayors To Campaign

rideshareThe ride-share company Uber on Monday announced it had expanded its roster of upstate mayors supportive of allowing the app and similar services to operate outside of New York City

Now backing the ride-sharing expansion upstate are Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Binghamton Mayor Rich David and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. Previously on the pro-Uber campaign has been Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

“We are a coalition of New Yorkers who want to see Albany leaders embrace new technology that will build on the Empire State’s economic revitalization,” the coalition said in a statement. “We support ridesharing services like Uber which has the potential to create 13,000 jobs in one year and make our communities safer by reducing drunk driving incidents.”

The company is making its statewide expansion push as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been supportive of a regulatory framework that could supersede the measures in place governing ride-share companies in New York City.

Uber pushed back against a bill in the New York City Council it believed would constrain its service in the five boroughs. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who backed that legislation, has been publicly feuding with Cuomo.

“Currently, Uber operates in NYC where it is regulated by the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission,” Uber said in a news release. “Uber would like regulations to pass on the State level so that riders and drivers can use the Uber app in all areas of New York State.”

Cuomo, Schumer Say Agreement Will Preserve 1,000 Jobs At Kraft-Heinz

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer in a joint statement on Wednesday announced an agreement with the company Kraft-Heinz that would prevent the closure of three facilities and delay the close of another.

“The prospect of these across the board closures was very real and not only would have been devastated these communities, but caused ripple effects in New York’s dairy industry and beyond,” Cuomo said in a statement “This agreement reverses course and, saves hundreds of local jobs and commits Kraft-Heinz to invest millions of dollars in the Upstate economy, with the potential for job increases in the years to come. I thank Senator Schumer and Kraft-Heinz for working with us to protect jobs in these communities and help ensure the future of each of these plants.”

The agreement with Kraft-Heinz will keep its facilities in Avon, Walton and Lowville open, while the planned closure of its plant in the Steuben County town of Campbell will be deferred for 12 to 24 months. During that deferment, government officials on the local, state and federal levels will work with the company to find a new operator to retain the plant’s current workers.

New York, along with Kraft-Heinz, will commit to investing “at least” $20 million to upgrade the company’s existing operations in upstate New York.

Under the agreement, the state will spend $20 million over the next five years, with the company matching that amount in order to upgrade its existing facilities at Avon, Walton and Lowville. If the company hasn’t decreased its total employment in the state and has spent at least $25 million in its own operations, the Empire State Development Corp. will spend an additional $5 million, ultimately injecting $50 million into the operations for Heinz-Kraft. More >

Broad Coalition Pushes Parity For Infrastructure Spending

tappanA broad coalition of dozens of individual organizations on Wednesday released a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo calling for parity in funding between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — which primarily serves downstate residents — and the state projects at the Department of Transportation.

“Infrastructure is literally the lifeblood of our communities,” the groups wrote in a letter. “We rely upon it for our farmers to get their goods to market and for customers to get to our businesses. We count on it to get our kids safely to and from school or our loved ones to a hospital in the event of an emergency. Modern infrastructure in a state of good repair is safer and decreases costs on motorists.”

Similar letters to were sent to the state’s legislative leaders in the Democratic-led Assembly and Republican-controlled Senate.

The letter comes after Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to a new funding plan for capital projects at the MTA, which boosted spending to build new stations, improve existing infrastructure and purchase new buses and subways.

All together, over five years, New York state will contribute $8.3 billion to the capital program and New York City will contribute $2.5 billion (There is still the nagging question of how this will be paid for, and the Cuomo administration did not rule out borrowing to cover some of the costs). More >