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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 regional manager.


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 Regulatory Commission.


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 general public.


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.


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Niagara Heritage Partnership

MPO Box 1495

Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723