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How Dyster and DeSantis are being green

Niagara Falls Repoerter

September 29, 2009

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Green is the color of grass.

Like the green grass of home, which sometimes seems greener on the far side of the hill.

And green is the color of the summer leaves and the trees upon the hillocks.

There are green valleys and green mountains and leaves gone green in spring, trusting little leaves of green.

And green, of course, is the color of money.

When you talk about Niagara Falls' green Mayor Paul Dyster, or planner Tom DeSantis, you have to wonder what kind of green they are pursuing.

A neighborhood park on Cayuga Island, Jayne Park consists of trees and grass and no pavement, along the Little Niagara River.

Last May, DeSantis presented to the Council and residents a new "greener" plan. He showed a 10-year-old drawing that showed no paved parking lots and hardly a twig moved.

He failed to mention, however, he submitted a plan to the Greenway Commission, filed last January, which adds parking lots, asphalt trails, canoe launches, pavilions, outhouses, tree removal, shoreline disruption and waterfowl habitat destruction.

Cayuga Island residents were unhappy to learn their neighborhood park might become a regional one. And more than 350 of them signed petitions seeking to stop the "green" changes.

DeSantis calmed them, saying the project wouldn't be done in the foreseeable future.

Meantime, DeSantis and Dyster, whose wife is Democratic committeewoman for Cayuga Island, avoided all communication with island residents.

Months passed. On Sept. 3, DeSantis conducted a private "walk through" of Jayne Park with members from the LaSalle PRIDE civic organization and Wendel Duchscherer architects, who are getting paid for planning the alteration of Jayne Park. Unfortunately for DeSantis, 90 island residents crashed the walk and learned DeSantis planned to move forward fast.

DeSantis has, perhaps, a vision of canoe launches on every other street and parks that bring strangers to quiet neighborhoods. For the mayor's friends from Buffalo (Wendel Duchscherer, the Buffalo dominated Greenway Commission, the Buffalo-dominated Riverkeepers, etc.), if the Jayne Park plan is thwarted, some at least will be paid for drawing plans.

Island residents, be advised: The mayor and DeSantis have $300,000 to blow for Jayne Park. They want to spend it on their friends. When DeSantis stood before the Council and misled residents about Jayne Park, he failed to mention he had just met with Wendel representatives and Canadian consultant Ken Sherman to plan another canoe launch on 87th and Cayuga Drive.

Sherman is a member of Riverkeepers and a "green consultant" who finds himself written into many of DeSantis' grants.

DeSantis said the canoe launch -- with planning -- would cost $80,000 and "the city has the money." He finds money when he needs it -- for canoes and friends.

Century Club Park was originally supposed to cost a few thousand -- for a sign, plumbing for restrooms and garbage cans. DeSantis and Dyster hired Wendel to draw plans for a "floating fishing platform, tiered walk down to the river and a large concession stand," escalating the cost to $1.7 million.

DeSantis had to withdraw his plan for a canoe launch, since the state ruled the water moved too fast and people would die if they launched canoes there. But that didn't stop DeSantis from hiring consultants to plan a canoe launch there.

The docks planned are to be floating. Happily, one of DeSantis' Buffalo Riverkeeper friends sells floating docks for motorboats and canoes. When asked where he would find the $1.7 million to "improve" the tiny park, DeSantis answered, "from various sources."

He does have a penchant for locating funds, at least for planning -- which is as far as most projects go in the 15 years DeSantis has been city planner, a period marked by no accomplishment other than millions spent in planning projects that were never built.

To get to Century Club Park, you enter from a section of Buffalo Avenue that is almost impassible for vehicles. But instead of planning to permanently fix that, DeSantis plans boat launches on land that will be rarely utilized.

Incidentally, people are asking, since DeSantis gives out so many planning jobs that never get built, if he, his relatives or affiliates get work from Wendel or others, planning projects outside the city.

"Improvements" to Lewiston Road, begun this August, will cost $7.9 million. Wendel Duchscherer is doing the work. The project will take down at least 60 trees, presently marked with paint along Lewiston Road. At least one of the trees is 100 years old. The Man O' Trees Company (from Buffalo naturally) will do the tree cutting.

Tree huggers and residents losing their trees, told Dyster this runs counter to everything they believed about his dedication to "green." There are ways to save the trees.

The mayor responded that "hearings" were held and the trees had been talked about by Wendel at length. The "hearings" came and went without printed announcements and with no direct attempt to reach residents.

What we will soon see along beautiful Lewiston Road is the "missing tooth syndrome" -- a stretch of mature trees, then a stretch with saplings, then again mature trees. Homeowners are horrified at their green mayor.

City and Greenway money will pay for Wendel to do the planning work for the Rainbow Boulevard traffic circle sculpture. The unnecessary, unspecified sculpture was supposed to have been installed before the Boundary Waters Centennial this past June. There is no sign of the project being started.

The project is typical. Lots of talk, lots of planning, lots of setting aside funds and lots of money spent on planning -- given to friends of DeSantis and the mayor. Time drags, additional studies are conducted, more time passes.

Eventually, if it is done at all, it is done at incredible cost when no one is looking.

The cost for a useless sculpture at an undersized traffic circle is expected to exceed $460,000.

There has been $18 million set aside for the new train station, diverted from projects like paving Pine Avenue and 24th Street. The city will request $22 million more from federal stimulus money.

It has never been revealed how many projects DeSantis put on hold in order to accumulate the $18 million. Money that was supposed to be used for the Buffalo Avenue paving project, about $6 million, was diverted.

Most drivers hitting potholes on Buffalo Avenue probably have no idea that DeSantis singlehandedly stopped the dig out and repavement in favor of a "green" train station.

True, the city luckily got some federal money to repair Buffalo Avenue from Hyde Park to Portage. Meantime, for the section of Buffalo Avenue from Hyde Park to 80th, which needs a complete dig out, the mayor has ordered a patch job that may not last.

Some believe obsolete train travel will not attract 12,000 riders per year in the Falls.

Some cities spend money on airports and improving roads, which is how most people really enter any city. Buffalo-based Wendel Duchscherer is, of course, doing the engineering work.

Other "planners" -- some hardly qualified, except for being political allies of the mayor -- are getting planning gigs for a train station that may never be built.

Want to see what tens of thousands of dollars of renderings look like? Take a look at those done for the proposed Niagara Experience Center.

The Niagara Experience Center Web site drawings include a "virtual" Niagara Falls experience to compete a few hundred feet away from the real one. The mayor and DeSantis are board members, along with mainly Buffalo "green" people.

Buffalo is driving the planning, and it is rumored that famed historian and originator of what was initially a noble concept, Paul Gromosiak, quit the board because he opposed the mayor selling out to Buffalo interests.

The Experience Center and train station both require tens of millions of state and federal funds -- and, consequently, will probably never be built.

And then there's the removal of the Robert Moses Parkway. The mayor wants $40 million from the stimulus fund for parkway removal. No one even knows what he means. Remove a section? The whole thing? Modify it? Let Lewiston and DeVeaux have their say?

If you give a green mayor $40 million to work his "plan," what does this mean?

Millions in paid planning.

The mayor wants $22 million in stimulus money for a train station, and $40 million to remove a state parkway, as city infrastructure is crumbling and downtown is vacant. And not one private investment dollar on the horizon.

All of these problems are exacerbated by the lack of a city engineer, a position that remains unfilled even as the mayor enters the third year of his term.

City engineer Bob Curtis was fired on day one of Dyster's administration. Curtis had been critical of Ciminelli Construction, contractors of the over-budget $50 million courthouse. And Ciminelli was a major backer of Dyster.

In return, Dyster let Ciminelli build the courthouse without municipal supervision until, after costs skyrocketed and led to public outcry, the fox hired his friend, Buffalo's David Jaros, of LiRo Engineering to watch the hen/courthouse at $14,000 per month.

Then Dyster hired unlicensed engineer Ali Marzban of Iran. Then fired him.

Then the mayor sought and received $50,000 from taxpayers for LiRo to assist an engineerless engineering department.

When asked what the $50,000 was for, Dyster said, "I want to get them the money first, then I will pick from a price list what they will do."

Meanwhile, LiRo is getting monthly checks for supervising the courthouse construction, even though construction was completed months ago. LiRo is said to soon get an additional $40,000 -- not to build a basketball court, but to draw up plans for one. Some developers could build a basketball court for what it will take Dyster to plan one.

From April fields growing green in the rain, and the dusky green of rye as it ripples in the breeze, near the green and cultured hill, amid the sniff of green leaves, the sound of murmuring pines and old hemlocks bearded with moss -- when we think of green, we think of natural things.

Heavenly, too, like ivy that climbs up the old church wall.

And green can be big like the mayor's un-green SUV.

Important like a planner giving planning jobs to his colleagues.

Powerful like a mayor giving contracts to Buffalo-based political allies who will later fund his campaigns.

Cool like having people vote for you because they think you're green.

It's easy being green.



  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.