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Coalition launches push for Niagara River greenway
News Staff Reporter
Imagine a Niagara River greenway with ecological parks, nature trails, marine-based businesses where you can wind surf, eat fresh bass at a waterfront restaurant or just sit on a park bench and watch the sunset.

A coalition of more than 30 environment-friendly organizations in Western New York wants to stop dreaming and start planning and developing the greenway - a 36-mile path from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, linking towns, parks, and trails from South Buffalo to Youngstown.

Sunday, the grass-roots coalition launched the Niagara River Greenway Campaign to preserve, restore and revitalize the Niagara River strip.

In announcing the campaign, speakers took to the podium outside a Grand Island hotel, with a backdrop of snow flurries and the Niagara River.

"This is a watershed moment that links two of the most important fresh-water lakes," said Julie Barrett O'Neill, executive director of Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers.

"We want the greenway to be green, community accessible, marine focused and economically sustainable," she said.

The initiative hinges on private and public partnerships.

On Sept. 22, Gov. George E. Pataki signed a law establishing a 14-member commission, appointed by the governor and state legislators, to execute the plan.

It would be funded by an undetermined amount of money - estimated to be in the millions of dollars - from the relicensing the State Power Authority's Niagara Power Project in Lewiston.

"This is the most important legislation for Western New York in perhaps an entire generation," said Paul Dyster, a board member of the Friends of Buffalo Niagara Rivers who will serve on the state's 14-member commission.

O'Neill said she wants Western New Yorkers to get involved in campaigns to protect and develop the greenway and Buffalo's waterfront. The coalition is asking residents to submit their ideas for developing Buffalo's outer harbor.

The three different visions for the harbor can be viewed at www.nfta.com/waterfront.phtml, and the deadline for submissions is 5 p.m. today, O'Neill said.

Dyster said he hopes the greenway will take a page from such success stories as Baltimore's Inner Harbor, New York's Hudson River Valley Greenway and the greenway and preservation trails in Niagara Falls, Ont.

But he wants the region to learn from its mistakes.

"A large chunk of our waterfront is publicly owned, and we don't want investors who are just trying to make a quick buck," he said.