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Higgins requests data on waterfront development spending


BUFFALO -- Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) is asking Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) to provide a full accounting of the expenditure of funding provided for Buffalo waterfront development through the federal relicensing settlement with the New York Power Authority (NYPA).  Higgins made the formal request in a letter to ECHDC in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Niagara Power Project was created by federal law in 1957 with the primary intent of supporting economic development and residents in Western New York.  The New York Power Authority's 50-year federal license for the Niagara Power Project was set to expire Aug. 31, 2007 but a $279 million relicensing agreement was reached in 2005 and renegotiated in 2009 to add additional funding for Buffalo's waterfront. This allowed for larger annual payments over a 20-year period rather than on a 50-year timeline.

Higgins said, "The NYPA settlement was a hard-fought battle which gave this community more than the Power Authority wanted to provide but less than this community deserved. It provides a finite sum of resources for the long-overdue redevelopment of Buffalo's waterfront. While we have accomplished much over the last several years, there is still a great deal to do to keep the momentum going.  Today we are more than eight years into a 20-year settlement and as we reach the half-way point it is vital for the community to know how their resources have been spent and what remains so we, as a community, can make the best decisions moving forward."

Last week the Buffalo News reported a lawsuit over a construction dispute involving ECHDC has resulted in $2.67 million in legal fees. With the case headed to trial in 2018 it is expected that number will continue to grow.

Higgins says recent reports of millions in expenses related to the lawsuit raises additional questions and further prompts the need for public transparency, "Dealings like this lawsuit are a distraction from the work that still needs to be done. The public deserves to know who is paying these legal fees.  Is the state bearing the costs or is it coming out of NYPA settlement funds intended to support public waterfront improvements?"

Earlier this month Congressman Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan called on ECHDC to move forward with construction of Canalside Hall, a component of the Canalside 2013 master plan which would feature dining options "designed to embrace Buffalo's rich old and new food culture." The restaurant component planned to go into a portion of the now cavernous Aud block is a critical missing piece essential to enhancing the public experience at Canalside.

The NYPA settlement, secured by Higgins, has funded much of the progress at Canalside and along the Outer Harbor.  Examples of settlement funded projects include: the Central Wharf along the Inner Harbor which first opened in 2008, Wilkeson Pointe along the Outer Harbor, Buffalo Lighthouse Rehabilitation, East Canals completed in 2013, Gallagher Beach improvements, the bicycle ferry landing, Clinton's Dish, Central Wharf expansion & Canalside sandy play area, lighting on the grain elevators, and $9 million toward construction of the building that will be home to Explore and More Children's Museum.

In addition to NYPA settlement funding, since 2008 Congressman Higgins has secured more than $120 million in federal funding toward projects in and around Buffalo's waterways including but not limited to: the reconstruction of Fuhrmann Boulevard along the Outer Harbor and Ohio Street along the Buffalo River; Union Ship Canal Promenade, Gallagher Beach boardwalk extension, Tifft Street and Lake Kirsty Piers; the Hamburg Drain water infrastructure project at Canalside, the Outer Harbor Greenbelt, the U.S. Coast Guard Lighthouse access project; and the Cobblestone Streets at Canalside.