Homeland Security at the
NHPA Facility - July 2005
by Bob Baxter
In October 2001, the commentary “Terrorists,
Casinos, Creating Jobs” presented the Niagara Heritage Partnership
concerns about traffic driving across the face of the Robert Moses Power
Plant on the Moses parkway. This is posted at
In April 2004 we wrote to C. Susan Mencer, then the director of the Office
for Domestic Preparedness under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,
to express these concerns, copying eleven others we felt should be aware
of our views, including our state and federal political representatives.
Each of those copied also received a
photograph of the parkway lanes running over the generating plant, with
traffic visible, accompanied by a personal query as to what might be done
to reduce this risk. With the exception of Mencer, whose reply was prompt
and instructive, others were nonresponsive or sent inadequate replies.
James McMahon, then the Director of the NYS Office of Public Security,
though he was also copied by Mencer and received a second follow-up letter
from us asking that he at least acknowledge he was aware of our concerns,
did not respond.
We brought up the topic of generating plant
security during relicensing discussions in late summer of 2004, but the
subject was dismissed by a NYPA spokesperson with the phrase, “We’re
prepared for any contingency,” and the notion that revealing specifics
might jeopardize security. Because our initial queries had generally
resulted in an inadequate response, in April 2005 we repeatedly contacted
some of those to whom we had initially written, the offices of US Senators
Clinton and Schumer and Congresswoman Slaughter, specifically. Although
two of these offices requested copies of our original correspondence,
which we promptly sent, their responses to our concerns remained the same:
that is to say, there have been no responses. They and others, however,
spoke forcefully and eloquently for Niagara Falls base retention at recent
BRAC Commission Hearings, in part because of the need for homeland
security re our power generation facilities.
Meanwhile, newspaper articles have addressed
the topic, and other groups, institutions, and individuals have made
comments about the perceived lack of security at the plant re the Moses
parkway in letters to the editor and in other venues. These comments have
elicited the following negative reactions: 1) NHP is only using the
homeland security issue as an “excuse” to close the parkway; 2) there are
many other unprotected areas related to NYPA power production which pose
risks to homeland security; 3) NHP and others are not qualified to make
such comments, as most recently stated by Ronald Ciamega, former NYPA WNY
We reject all these viewpoints. Since 1997,
NHP has developed a multi-faceted rationale for gorge parkway removal
between Niagara Falls and Lewiston, NY that involves economic and
environmental benefits: historical and woodland preservation and
reclamation, especially at the degraded Devil’s Hole State Park and the
old growth forest at DeVeaux, the creation of a genuine greenway with
hiking and bicycling trails through a vehicle-free park of distinction.
This is a general statement; the details of the proposal provide hundreds
of related reasons for parkway removal. We believe reducing a potential
security risk to the generating plant is yet another reason for parkway
removal, an important consideration, certainly, but not an “excuse.”
Continued vehicle access across the plant either represents a potential
threat or it doesn’t. We believe the issue should be examined on its own
merit, and that observing traffic elimination would advance the broader
NHP agenda contributes nothing to the discussion.
Those who demonstrate their opposition to
eliminating traffic from the power plant via the Moses by listing other
points of potential vulnerability employ an unclear logic. They do not
develop arguments and often use sarcasm in presenting their lists. Do
they suggest all points are equal threats? Do they suggest that since
there may be multiple points that it’s logical to take no action? If so,
we reject those positions. We believe that protecting one location is
better than protecting none, and we chose the power plant for the obvious
reason: it’s closest to the major power generating turbines where
disruption would be damaging beyond our region and more difficult,
time-consuming, and expensive to repair.
Ciamega attempts to discredit comments about
security at NYPA’s gorge plant by stating he’s “astonished” that NYPA
security could be questioned by anyone who hadn’t taken part in “extensive
engineering studies…to explore potential vulnerabilities” and in “weekly
executive meetings conducted by the authority’s president and senior staff
to ensure that every reasonable measure was enacted.” Since ordinary
citizens were not invited to those post 9/11 sessions and because actions
decided on there are understandably confidential, we’re in the position,
according to Ciamega, of having to remain silent, to accept on faith that
all is secure.
Under these circumstances, NHP has not been
critical of any internal, confidential security measures taken by NYPA.
How could we be? Ignorant of the actions taken, we accept that the
experts have done their jobs well, even brilliantly, certainly well
enough, as Ciamega reports, to earn praise from the Federal Energy
We’ve restricted our comments to the action
they haven’t taken. These facts remain indisputable: pre 9/11, vehicles
were permitted to drive across the face of the gorge power plant on the
four lanes of the Robert Moses Parkway; post 9/11, vehicles are permitted
to drive across the face of the gorge power plant on the four lanes of the
Robert Moses Parkway.
Two possibilities are immediately apparent: 1)
this condition represents a security risk, and 2) this condition does not
represent a security risk. If there is no risk, some spokesperson should
be willing to say that no truckload of explosives, no matter the size or
type of truck, eighteen-wheeler or tanker, or type of explosive, or two
trucks, or three, could cause significant power-interrupting damage under
any imaginable circumstance. The plant is simply impenetrable, impervious
to disruption of electrical production via the parkway.
Since few people are willing to give such
absolute assurances, it seems some risk, however slight, does exist.
Perhaps some of those “extensive engineering studies” combined with other
calculations, intelligence information, computer modeling, intuition, and
predictive processes that we can’t even imagine have indicated that the
concrete of the plant or roadbed would deflect “most” of the explosive
force upward, etc., and that the likelihood of explosives being delivered
over the concrete railing-side of the parkway is low, even very low. Some
group of individuals then decided that probabilities of serious damage
were minimal to the extent that action such as eliminating traffic on the
parkway would not be required. There were, after all, minor political
considerations involved in maintaining this unnecessary commuter route.
NHP finds such a compromise of security, no
matter how minimal the threat, unacceptable. When such a threat is found
acceptable, it remains constant through future years for as long as the
potential for terrorism remains a reality for America. The ramifications
may also be slight, but will also be constant. The potential need for
first responders remains slightly elevated. The security concerns
expressed by Niagara University also remain slightly elevated.
Furthermore, the inaction that maintains an open parkway and the traffic
it carries, not only maintains the risk, but also continues to deny access
to the gorge for the students and staff of Niagara University and to the
For over a century before power plant
construction, since the founding of NU in 1856, the gorge rim across from
the university was very different than it is today. Much of it,
especially to the south, was as richly forested as the slopes just below
the rim at Devil’s Hole, a short distance away. It was possible to walk
down over the University lawns, across the two-lane Lewiston Road, and
step into this gorge-environment, then down below the rim under a canopy
of foliage. There, the sounds of traffic were muted, replaced by the
faint sounds of wind through the trees, the river flowing down below.
The possibility of experiencing this landscape
has been erased for nearly half a century. With the passing of one more
generation, no one alive will be able to describe it from memory. While
access to the gorge is blocked by the parkway, the Power Vista now
provides a wonderful panoramic view of the gorge and river to those from
the University campus and many others; it also provides a view of the
damage to Devil’s Hole and the gorgeside caused by the NYPA road to the
lower power plant.
It is because natural landscapes have been
destroyed and degraded by the parkway along the gorge rim that the Niagara
Heritage Partnership has been advocating for this highway’s removal and
the restoration of the natural environment. This would simultaneously
lower the threat level since no vehicles would be crossing the plant. We
believe that NYPA bears the responsibility of making this reparation a
reality, since NYPA created the conditions under which we presently live.
If they wish to defer to the Greenway Commission, using this newly-formed
agency as a proxy, that is their choice, but it does not absolve them from
their responsibilities to the people of our region, to our cultural,
historical, and environmental legacy which they should be working to
protect and restore for future generations.