Tag Archives: Niagara River Greenway Commission

Escape the Urban: Greenway Project Update

9 Oct

The latest in a series on the Niagara River Greenway Commission – here are the previous entries on the history of the group, an analysis of their systemic challenges, delays in spending money, last October’s project tracker and the update from this spring.

For my regular lonely update on the Niagara River Greenway Commission, the quasi-government entity with great potential, significant funding and nebulous power, epitomizing Western New York’s challenge in getting out of its own way, I was hoping to write up a throw away post, closing out coverage of the three projects I had been tracking and asking for readers to submit recommendations for new work to follow. Instead, two projects are incomplete and another is behind schedule.

First, the best (and only good) news. Fisherman’s Landing ($400,000), a reclamation project to convert a former wastewater treatment site and general eyesore into a convenient spot to throw in a bobber and a worm, is nearing completion.

Yes, the project was submitted for consideration three years ago, and at least two construction seasons were missed while the standing committee in charge of funding figured out how to open a bank account. Yes, it’s not the largest project, the sexiest project, or the most transformative project. But it allows anglers quality public access, and a prime goal of the commission was to find ways to get people to the water and enjoy it. After the trials and tribulations, it’s good to see the project 90% complete, down to a little asphalt work and installation of railings.

Images courtesy Mary Cooke (R-GI Town Council)

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the installation of signage along the trail ($205,000) and the construction of a key connecting bike trail between Lewiston and Devil’s Hole State Park ($2M total, $210,000 of greenway funds). The bike trail has been delayed for some time, and I did not expect to find progress. The signage, however, was supposed to be installed by now (August/September completion per the Erie County Planning Department in June). I was so confident the new product would be there that I didn’t call my program contacts before going out this weekend to take pictures along the trail. But lo and behold, as I scoured the Scajaqueda/Riverwalk conjunction, I found the battered oldtyme bicycle signs, not the new sleek guide posts I had expected.

More to come as I track down the reason for delays, though the original offer still stands: if there is a Greenway Project you’d like more info on, please comment below.

Escape the Urban: Greenway Project Update [UPDATED]

20 Jun

This is the latest in a series of articles on the Niagara River Greenway Commission – here are the previous entries on the history of the group, an analysis of their systemic challenges, delays in spending money, and last October’s project tracker.

With construction season finally upon us in earnest, it’s time to check in on some local, outdoor-related work. When last we looked in on the Niagara River Greenway Commission and their annual $9 Million pot of money, I picked out three projects to follow, geographically separate and indicative of the spirit with which the effort was organized. To briefly review, the Commission was formed in 2004 to write a unifying restoration and public recreation plan for the Niagara River corridor, from Buffalo to Fort Niagara. After the NYPA relicensing agreement of 2007, it was given general oversight responsibility to implement its plan but few enforcement tools, including the actual spending of money. That is left to four Standing Committees, that have various levels of competence and gusto. In four years, far less than the $36 Million available has been spent, but instead of trying to untangle the dizzying array of issues on every project, let’s look at the three I chose, and how they succinctly epitomize the overall effort:

Grand Island: Fisherman’s Landing – $400,000

The reclamation and redevelopment of land is fundamental to any restorative work. In the case of Fisherman’s Landing, immediately to the west of the South Grand Island Bridge, the biggest news relates not to what is being constructed, but what is no longer there.

This small spit of waterfront used to be home to a closed and graffitied water treatment station, walled off and crumbling concrete. Pieces of that relic are now being torn out daily, and according to Town Councilwoman Mary Cooke (R), Fisherman’s Landing will be open this season.

While everyone is excited to see the excavator bucket finally in the ground, the road to this point was overly long. Fisherman’s Landing was one of the first projects submitted to the Greenway Commission in 2007, but the town made the hard-to-anticipate mistake of submitting the work to the Buffalo and Erie County Standing Committee. That board took three years to simply meet, agree to open a bank account and hire the Community Foundation to write the checks and keep the books. Once the money flowed in 2010, the project underwent a series of redesigns, as the state decided to no longer require Grand Island to use this area as a last minute chlorination discharge point. Removal of that redundant and out-dated infrastructure yields a cleaner and smoother space, but it also delayed construction past the 2010 season. A $400,000 clean up three years behind schedule is an apt symbol of much of the Greenway work. In this case, at least we are only a couple months from completion.

Shoreline Trail Signage – $205,000

In addition to acre by acre environmental restoration, the Greenway Commission was charged with unifying the space in a coherent fashion, and enabling and encouraging citizen use. Little does more to solidify the concept of a trail in a users mind than consistent and comely signs.

Many thanks to Tom Dearing and Rachel Chrostowski in the Erie County Planning Dept for info and graphics

Compared to other Greenway projects, this one has been relatively smooth and straight forward thus far. The logo and interpretive element design has been arduous (six years of tweaking, as I reported last time), but since the last public meeting in October, the signs have been finalized and are currently in production. They will be installed in the pilot section, from Scajaquada Creek to the Tonawandas, in August and September, only a month or two behind the timeline presented last year. In future years (2013 at the earliest for Greenway funds, per Tom Dearing), additional sections of the trail can be marked.

At this point, however, the Greenway FAIL begins to creep in. This project was funded by the Buffalo and Erie County Standing Committee, and so has binding authority for Greenway trails in Erie County to look a certain way. In addition, since it was the county that applied, they have more power to mandate logo and sign usage, even if they use other (state, county, DOT) funds. But no such influence expressly exists across the border in Niagara County. The Greenway Commission itself can recommend but not mandate, and Erie County has less influence than that. In practical terms, this means that the signs that tell you that you are on the Greenway could change in design once you cross the border, undermining any effort at unification and branding.

Trail from Devil’s Hole to Lewiston – $2 Million ($210,000 of Greenway funds)

At least the trail exists in the Tonawandas, however, to have varied signage. I have no picture for this project because nothing has happened. The gap remains between the Village of Lewiston and Devil’s Hole, the essential bit along the escarpment that would connect large trail systems above and below. For bikers wishing to be able to travel from the Erie Basin Marina in Buffalo to Fort Niagara via safe, dedicated path, there is only this section standing in the way. The ability to travel by foot or bike the entire length of the Greenway seems to me the most basic and fundamental requirement possible.

I contacted Supervisor Reiter of the Town of Lewiston several times for this piece, as he was quoted extensively in a Niagara Gazette article on the subject last September. I only received a brief “the state is holding us up” comment via cell phone after several calls and emails to his office. This wouldn’t be the first delay – Congresswoman Slaughter first secured funding for the project ten years ago. More to come, hopefully during this brief construction season.

UPDATE: Jerry Zrmeski has an article in today’s Buffalo News on the stalled, FAILed Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Commission. Halfway through its charter it has barely met, much less begun work on a plan to “lay out ways to promote the area’s natural and historic assets, from the Falls to Fort Niagara, as a unified and nationally significant destination.” An astute watcher of WNY may ask themselves: 1) isn’t the Niagara River Greenway Commission already supposed to be doing that, 2) why do we need another dusty, forgotten, or competing plan, and 3) (as a commenter at the Buff News website asks) if Niagara Falls was in Higgin’s district and not Slaughter’s, would the work be funded already?

Escape the Urban: Greenway Project Tracking

31 Oct

If only natural resources had endowments. Mountain ranges and canyons. River and lakes. Lonely rocky beaches on cold, grey ocean shores. An endowment, in our monetized culture, would allow funds to be available for protection and clean up, access and restoration, enhancement for ease of recreation and enjoyment. Too good to be true? Amazingly no; it’s the situation Western New York is blessed with along the Niagara River now, and we’re only partially getting it right.

A quick rehash on the Niagara River Greenway Commission: created out of the NYPA relicensing agreement, this public body serves two functions. First, it sponsored and certified a report and plan on how to conserve, restore, develop and promote the Niagara River, from Buffalo to Old Fort Niagara. Plan complete, it now reviews projects from host communities and organizations for consistency with the plan, though it doesn’t spend any money itself. NYPA holds the purse strings, in the form of four committees, whose jurisdictional responsibilities are blurred, and procedures and competence vary widely.

But here’s the most important part. At $9 million a year, this is the biggest pot of development dollars in Western New York that no one talks about.

The Greenway Fund’s report card, from its three years of existence, is definitely mixed. Much has improved in the last year, so the grade at its two year anniversary would be far worse. Since I started reporting on the Greenway a year ago, the information on NYPA’s website has gotten considerably better. The committees have had three years to spend $27 million. Significantly less than that has been allocated, though following the exact dollar amounts is challenging, as reporting is spotty and inconsistent. Much has improved, though there is much more that needs to be done.

Meanwhile, questions continue to be raised about the direction and appropriateness of the fund’s chosen projects. The Chairman of the Greenway Commission himself, Bob Kresse, has publicly noted that while dollars are finally beginning to flow, they are being spent on items outside of the spirit of the Greenway Report’s vision, though not the letter of its unenforceable law. The $9 million a year was supposed to go for ecological restoration, and the creation of a unified greenbelt. Instead, it is being spent by local towns and municipalities on deferred maintenance of town parks, on restrooms and asphalt overlays. Kresse doesn’t have the power to stop it, and is asking for the law creating the Commission to be amended.

In the meantime, work is finally beginning on some good projects, in keeping with the original vision. The area the Greenway covers is broad and diverse, so I have selected three projects, from different geographical areas, to start tracking regularly, to provide a face to an obscure and complicated process.

Trail from Devil’s Hole to Lewiston – $2 Million ($210K of Greenway funds)

The most basic requirement for a unified greenway is a physical trail that runs its entire length, for biking, running and walking. Unfortunately, there is a very large hole in the current right-of-way, and in the most sought after spot. Currently, from the south, one can bike from the North Grand Island Bridge to Niagara Falls and on to Devil’s Hole, but no farther. Likewise, one can travel from Youngstown to Lewiston, along the lower river, but no further. The escarpment stands in the way, and there is no (official and legit) connection along the river from the Upper to the Lower. If any section begs for public access, it is this dramatic piece.

A Greenway project is finally fixing that, after nine (9!) years of debate, planning, controversy, and waiting for funding. Work begins this fall. 

Grand Island: Fisherman’s Landing – $400K (all Greenway funds)

The Town of Grand Island had the misfortunate of requesting funding from the Buffalo and Erie County standing committee, the poster child for delay and mismanagement. Now that the committee has finally hired Bank of America and the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo to watch and spend its money, dollars are flowing to build this park near the South Grand Island Bridge.

I recently had the chance to speak to Mary Cooke (R), councilwoman on Grand Island’s Town Board, about the project. The town wrote the grant to request funding in 2007, and received official approval in 2008, to remove the old decaying and graffiti-ed waste water treatment plant, plainly visible to all commuters just south of the massive bridges to Tonawanda. For two years the town waited for the committee to decide how to spend its money, until it finally arrived in mid-2010. A public meeting was held in July, and from the input, some additional green features have been added to the already planned park and fishing spot. Work is now slated to begin in 2011, two (if not potentially three) full construction seasons late.

Shoreline Trail Signage – $205K (all Greenway funds)

A trail is more than the packed dirt, rock or asphalt, that physically connects one location to another. It is also has its own sense of place, and is a thing unto itself. In the grandest examples, the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail, the ubiquitous yellow and white blazes are iconic themselves. So when the trail is finally complete from Brant to the northern mouth of the Niagara River, a key unifying feature will be the signage.

I attended a public meeting on October 19th about the plans for the signs. I will admit, I have little opinion about the exact color scheme, geometrical design, use of non-profit partner’s branding logos, or exact layout of informational versus directional signs. I am interested in them being complete, helpful, and installed. The process for the current crop of signs began in April of this year, and in June of 2011, a pilot section, from Scajaquada Creek to Isle View Park in North Tonawanda, should be installed. Designing the logo alone took six (6!) years, and replicates work done in labeling and branding the Riverwalk section (big wheeled bike, anyone) in Buffalo less than a decade ago. Unfortunately, only the pilot section is currently funded. But we are only three years into a fifty year funding protocol, so there is time (but not too much) to get this right. When complete, the signs will be identical, and thus bind together, 120 miles of shore-side trail.

I will provide regular updates on these projects as developments occur. If there are any other projects you would like me to stay on top of, dear Reader, so not hesitate to contact me (form in the upper right of this page).

Niagara River Greenway: New Ways to FAIL

5 Jul

The City of Buffalo finds many ways to FAIL. They can’t hire a qualified police chief in a transparent matter. They can’t partner with a national low income housing firm without demanding kickbacks like a petulant child. And the only way they help an urban farm is get out of the way, when everything in their being wants to restrict and stop.

One would think all the ways to FAIL had been taken. Oh, you naive soul.

No, now we can’t even spend our own money.

On this page I have previously tried to make sense of the forgotten and neglected Niagara River Greenway Commission. A quick refresher: as part of the New York Power Authority relicensing agreement, $9 million a year is available to be spent on park, tourist, and environmental projects all along the Niagara River, from Buffalo to Fort Niagara. This being New York, however, nothing is easy and simple. The Commission, created by state law, is charged with planning and promotion functions. However, they spend none of the money. That is left to four “standing committees,” made up various civic and political leaders. The Commission declares a certain project (rehabbing La Salle Park, for instance) to be “consistent,” and then the standing committee for that project spends the money.

These standing committees display various levels of competence. While all organized by the New York Power Authority, they show various abilities to even update their websites. I am willing to give credit where it is due: the Ecological Standing Committee is the most organized, with project statuses and updates listed, and even a helpful map of project locations (your humble correspondent requested such web-based updates at a Commission meeting last year – coincidence? Probably.).

But back to the FAIL. The Buffalo and Erie County committee has thus far been completely unable to get out of its own way. It is made up of only four members: Kathy Konst (Erie County), Sue Gonzalez (Buffalo), Robert Daly (NYPA), and Anne Joyce (Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy). And yet this four member committee has spent less than 5% of the monies allocated to it so far in over three years of existence.

Tracking the money and dysfunction is challenging because of the incomplete records on the website: only one annual report is listed, and no meeting minutes are available for over a year in 2009-2010. But from discussions with local sources, in addition to the public records, the following emerges:

Kathy Konst and Sue Gonzalez are new to the game. They first appear in public records on February 23rd, 2010 in meeting minutes. Before that Holly Sinnott (previous Erie County planner) and Karen Fleming (City Division of Urban Affairs) were their organization’s representatives, and in their two and half year tenure, not a thing happened. The 2009 Annual Report for the Committee cheekily describes it this way:

The Committee began organizing in 2007 and in the spring of 2008 adopted Committee Protocols. One of the Agreement Commitments was for the Committee to appoint a Trustee. The process consumed a great deal of time, the Committee entered into a Trustee agreement with the Bank of America in September 2009 [sic].

That’s right – it took half a year to agree on the ground rules, and two years to find a bank account. Its not that the committee members disagreed on philosophy, which projects to fund, or anything remotely substantial. They couldn’t figure out who should sign the checks and spend the money. After two and half years of wrangling, Bank of America was brought on to keep the money, and the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo to manage it. In 2009, these services cost $20,191 – $5,500 in bank fees to BofA, and $14,651 in project management fees to CFGB. To watch six projects that haven’t happened yet.

Yes, that’s right, it gets better. Once the committee put most of its shit in same box (October 2009, according to the report), NYPA agreed to transfer over $6 million for 2007, 2008, and 2009. Out of that $6 million, the committee has agreed how to spend $3.6 million of it. And how much of that cash has actually been spent? $360K – 5% of the total handed to it by the relicensing agreement. $340K to BOPC to get started planning two projects, and $20K in fees referenced above. $5.6 million still sits in that BofA account, as of January 2010, presumably racking up banking fees.

There are projects announced in 2008 that still haven’t seen a dime, not because the money isn’t available, but because of general incompetence. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy, a generally reputable and forward looking group, has finally managed to move ahead on planning projects for Scajaquada Creek, Riverside Park, and La Salle Park. Grand Island is still waiting on money for Fisherman’s Landing. But what’s the hurry – its not like Buffalo is a poor city or in the midst of a national recession.

Our community pays attention to funny things. $250K for a failed restaurant makes tons of news. Colin Dabkowski at the Buffalo News writes weekly columns on the tragedy of $5M in county (non)spending on arts and culturals. But $9 million of waterfront spending on a wide swath of Western New York gets barely a yawn? The mismanagement of our regional resources and lack of coherent attention span is astounding.

Report From The Greenway

18 Nov

Yesterday at the Niagara River Greenway Commission meetings, I saw Western New York’s political, civic and development personality encapsulated in two and half hours of meetings. Its like a microcosm of all of our well-meaning potential and infuriating self-induced implosions: Bureaucratic delays. Millions of dollars available but unspent. Legal hurdles and shackles. Environment vs development. County vs city. Toothless advisory boards. Well-meaning and frustrated politicians. Studies to study studies.

The Buffalo News reported today on the votes for “consistency” for four proposed projects. To me, the four unanimous non-legally binding votes that confer no money were the least interesting part of the meeting.

Some highlights:

1) The Commission thinks its broke: monetarily, politically and practically. It has received $55K of its $400Kish budget for the year. But the check is in the mail from the state Environmental Protection Fund for the rest. In the meantime, the Commission’s planned advertising efforts are on hold. But more interestingly, Chairman Kresse on several occasions noted that lack of “traction” the Commission has, due to the legislation that created it. Their board approves no projects – legally, they only need to be consulted. Projects are funded and approved elsewhere. In fact, at least one project deemed “inconsistent” was funded anyway. The Commission’s solution? Bring back former commissioners, the ones who helped write the legislation and the plan five years ago, to form an advisory board for the current Commission. Yes, an advisory board for an advisory board. Please note that the members of this Commission are mayors, high ranking officials of state agencies, and respected philanthropists, and that this is a Public Benefit Corp, not some random 501(c)(3). I think they have more power than they think they do.

2) Bureaucracy and legalities, not intention, are keeping project data from the public. Robert Daly, the NYPA representative on the Commission, was very forthright about the funding and data providing process. The Commission determines consistency, and then its out of their hands. The NYPA Standing Committees provide funding, but then, per the relicensing agreement, only need to provide funding (not project status) updates once a year. The municipalities spend the money, but don’t report project statuses back up to anyone. The audits make sure the money is spent, but not that the projects are done. No one has a legal obligation to report back to the advocacy group, the Commission, so they don’t. And that is why the public doesn’t know. Satisfied? Me neither.

Dyster3) Mayor Dyster gets it. I broke the fourth wall of impartial journalism and spoke to the Commission. I relayed my frustration at trying to get project status information, or determine where money is being spent. I noted that its hard for the public to get involved (a goal mentioned earlier in the session by Chairman Kresse) if they are in the dark. I asked that the Commission see itself as the clearinghouse for information about the Greenway. I got knowing head nods all around the table. Chairman Kresse noted that a newsletter will be forthcoming as soon as they get funds to spread the word on projects. I chose not to get into a debate about the merits of printing 10,000 paper newsletters versus the much cheaper option of simply putting the info on the website.

Mayor Dyster sought me out afterward, commiserated that he agreed with my sentiment, and then ASKED ME what the ideal solution would look like. My answer: a Google Map GIS mash up on the website, where I can put my mouse on a red/yellow/green icon and get two pictures and five sentences on the project. He then asked what the less expensive version was. I relayed that a power point slide with arrows or a chart was better than what was currently available. That would cost someone three hours and a dollar cup of coffee to do right now. 

Locally, the Ere Canal Harbor Development Corp has set the standard recent for project status information: the live streaming video from the Aud site. Want to know what the status of the project is? You don’t have to trust us – see for yourself. Mayor Dyster gets that the public needs to know whether its legally required to do monthly updates or not. The fact that the Commissioners are often the spenders of the money (in their role as head of a municipality) is both a boon and curse: they know the status of the project, but would hardly be eager to provide the bad news of why something is behind schedule. I am not optimistic this will be solved soon: the public has raised this point before at other meetings, and the Commission has been talking about this issue for some time.  

On a side note, Mayor Dyster gets it for other reasons too. He is leading a charge to get the community ready to welcome tourists (and $$$) for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. The governor doesn’t want to set up a special 1812 commission, with the associated costs, because of the state financial crisis. Dyster’s solution proposed and agreed to at this meeting: have the Greenway Commission, already created and paid for, act as an ad hoc War of 1812 pass-through and planning entity. Most of the events will be on the Greenway anyway. Save the state taxpayers a couple $100K. Common sense: not that common.

4) Funding is disjointed and unaccountably slow. One Standing Committee, the Buffalo and Erie County Greenway Fund, that has $2M a year at its disposal, has yet to spend a dime in over two years. Projects on hold: $1.2M improvement for Scajaqueda Creek, $650K for La Salle Park, $205K in signage and improvement for 14 miles of the Riverwalk trail, $400K Fisherman’s Landing Park on Grand Island,  $866K for the City of Tonawanda’s Niawanda Park, and the $302K Minnow’s Pool project in Riverside.  The hold up? It took two years to find a “Trustee” to disperse the money. It actually came down to fielding a Request For Proposal (RFP) to hire an outside group (a partnership of Bank of America and Community Foundation) to spend the money. That structure is supposed to be in place now, two years late. Why did this committee, and this committee only, decide it couldn’t spend its money on its own? More to come. 

Untying these knots will take some time, and I’ll continue to talk to the personalities in the process as I focus on various projects and issues illuminated by a little homework and investigation. More to come on specific projects and each standing committee, and why available money is either not being spent or is behind schedule.

With $9M of yearly grants, the NYPA relicensing agreement funding is the equivalent of a $200M Foundation being dropped into Western New York. That would make it the second largest foundation in the area, behind only Oishei (barely), and more than double either The Community Foundation or Wendt. Big money deserves at least a little scrutiny.

Niagara River Greenway Commission: Remember That?

16 Nov

A major barrier, perhaps the major barrier, to the redevelopment and enhancement of Western New York is capital. Buffalo is not a rich city and we are not the home of many major corporations, rich families, venture capital investment funds, or large foundations. M&T Bank is our only (sometimes) Fortune 500 company. Our major publicly traded investment capital firm, RAND Corp, has a total portfolio of $25M. The $100M for the Statler is no where to be found. We know the major families by name and can count them on one hand: Jacobs, Rich, ehhhh, who else? The Goodyears and their contemporaries moved away decades ago. Our sports teams are owned by billionaires who live in Florida and Detroit. We have a tenuous connection to Warren Buffet, but when he thinks about Buffalo, it is to complain about his investment here.

In cities like San Francisco, Toronto and New York, there is so much capital sloshing around they can afford to take risky ventures. Some work out. Some don’t. Some overflows in the form of additional condo-towers on the QEW. There is a bucket of cash that needs to be spent one way or the other. These are problems Buffalo doesn’t have – our new firms have to partner with Russia to get experimental cancer drugs to market.

All this means we have to fake it and be creative to maximize the reinvestment opportunities we do have. We can’t afford to be wasteful, slow or clumsy with our investment cash. The State Comptroller uses the pension fund as venture capital start up funding for businesses around the state. The local non-profit Wendt Foundation is funding a for-profit redevelopment project in a major commercial corridor downtown to increase the public’s perception of downtown in the short term and the overall tax base in the long term. And when the New York Power Authority signs a new 50 year relicensing agreement, we wring $450M in concessions from them for Niagara River Greenway development.

NRGC

Remember that? The Niagara River Greenway? How many blank looks around town would that question generate. Let me refresh your memory. Five years ago, way back in 2004, New York creates the Niagara River Greenway and a special Commission (NRGC) to identify and define a natural boundary of the Niagara River from Buffalo to Old Fort Niagara and then act as an advocate and clearinghouse for development and ecological restoration projects along it. Continuous bike trails. Boating and hiking opportunities. New and restored parks. That ubiquitous interpretive signage. You get the idea. Try biking from Art Park to Niagara Falls, or from the Inner Harbor north to Scajaquada Creek,  now and you’ll see why its needed.

What started out as a unfunded mandate got a major boost from the NYPA relicensing agreement in 2007, which promised to inject $9M a year for 50 years into the Niagara River Greenway. It took three years, but the NRGC did develop a final plan to outline spending options in 2007. Like all plans in Western New York, it won planning awards and then . . . . well, we don’t know.

And that’s the point. The NYPA has pumped out $18M at least, and perhaps already $27M, into the Niagara River Greenway. Can you name a project that has been completed? The fact that I couldn’t either led me to start tracking it down.

In Buffalo, $9M a year is not chump change. It’s the equivalent of a new Rocco Termini warehouse redevelopment each year. It’s more than the yearly investment of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp ($7.7M) or the Hauptman Woodward Research Institute ($$6.9M). Its roughly the yearly budgets of the Darwin Martin House ($4.5M), Burchfield-Penney ($3.6M) and Historical Society ($1.3M) combined (all numbers from Business First’s Annual Report on Non-Profits). The capital budget for the City of Buffalo is only $22M. The Erie County Arts and Culturals budget, that gets so much scrutiny in the news, is $5M. 

It is important to note that the NRGC does not actually fund anything itself. It determines “consistency” of proposed projects, which means it determines whether requests for funding fit into the 2007 Final Plan. Minutes of meetings indicate few rejections. After the NRGC determines consistency, it is up to four Standing Committees of the NYPA to actually spend the money. While consistency is the main factor in funding, this may be a formality, but is another level of bureaucracy that makes tracking down project information difficult. The NRGC will tell you what has been determined “consistent,” but not what has been funded. The Standing Committees, which each seem to have their web master based on the scattershot info available, may or may not tell you what has been funded, but provide no status updates. Much of the information posted consists of press releases from 2008.

So I plan on tracking down myself where this money is or is not being spent and reporting it to you. Step one is attending the quarterly meeting of the NRGC tomorrow, at 2:00pm, at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island. Most of you will not be able to attend, so please post what questions you would ask if you could attend. I plan on speaking and asking the board why they do not act as the clearinghouse for project information on their website, so the public can track progress and hold their own local officials accountable who are supposed to be spending the money. Please let me know what else you’d like me to ask. I’ll be reporting back and following this going forward.

For homework, you can read the final plan, and the 2007-2008 Annual Report, and the 2008-2009 Annual Report. First bad sign: the annual reports are nearly identical, including pictures and the opening statement of Bob Kresse, Chairman of the Board.