Friday, May 29, 2015


An innovative company 43North has hosted about 150 Canada-based entrepreneurs for a tour of what Western New York has to offer young start-up companies. The guests were impressed, many considering expanding their businesses to Buffalo and Western New York.

Funny, isn't it that Buffalo can attract young business people while the best that Fort Erie's Economic and Tourism Development seems be able to do is prop up a dying seasonal industry and to find a way to get the government to build a NOT-NASCAR raceway. Way to look to the future.

As we watch the eventual decline of Fort Erie into a hapless border town, we can also thank those who have been at the public trough too long. Fortunately, the present council wisely chose Tom Kuchyt as the new CAO despite a very strong campaign by some to appoint the notorious Russ Wilson to the post.

He has certainly earned his notorious label. Years ago, he abruptly left his job at Canada Customs. It was alleged that there was money missing from the office Christmas Fund which was administered by Wilson. No proof but a precedent was set. There were many "shortages" in bingo revenue since Wilson is in charge of Gaming for the town. Fortunately, the OLG has put a stop to that possibility because of widespread abuse of bingo money all through the province. Some familiar names crop up on long-ago documents regarding bingo theft. One local event planner was banned from bingo parlours or any involvement with bingos because of alleged theft.

The Wilson becomes head of Bridges Medical Program. Oops, his treasurer gets caught embezzling over a quarter million dollars and somehow she was able to get away with it for a couple of years and Wilson knew nothing about it. Now there's a guy with his finger on the pulse of his organization. Great experience for CAO. (That is, if you want a CAO who looks the other way while the cupboard is being emptied.) 

Isn't it time for Russ to go off into the sunset and pursue his dream of owning a strip club on the highway? Maybe he could go into the jewelry business with his wife and her old boss, Doug Martin. Or maybe he can try to run for office. He was elected once; then people smartened up. 

I must say that, like Jim Thibert, Russ Wilson is Teflon® coated. No matter how many try to chip away at the veneer, it refuses to break down.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


The first ever New York State Park within the city of Buffalo opened this weekend.

Long, long time coming. It is another piece to the complete overhaul of the waterfront in the city. Nearby, thousands flocked to a Canalside Carnival. Big doings for the Memorial Day Weekend. This is very unlike the failing Friendship Festival that once brought people to the town's waterfront.  And then it was moved to the parking lot at the race track. Damned near killed the event altogether. Since it was moved back, it has steadily declined in attendance.  Maybe it's because one of the Good Old Gals, Flo Odding (The Bingo Queen) knows where the bodies are buried and retains her title of "organizer" in perpetuity. Time to either kiss the Friendship Festival goodbye or take it back to its beginnings, sans the bingo grifters.

Meanwhile, Fort Erie is once again focusing on Bay Beach and it looks like the private developers are sniffing around for another opportunity to take away the last public beachfront park area in Crystal Beach. Didn't anyone get the message over the past several years that the majority of the people want to keep the so-called Bay Beach Properties in the public's hands? It took petitions, delegations, and elections to drive that message home. Unfortunately, certain power brokers have turned that message around through frivolous lawsuits; an irresponsible and biased local press; threats and pressure. Now, we seem to be back at Square One. A "new" master plan is being formulated for Bay Beach. Now that the Chamber of Commerce has taken over council, it awarded the consultation contract to a decidedly developer-friendly (they are on record as supporting the Molinaro's bid for a P-3 agreement for the public land) consultant. I can imagine the so-called "community input" component of the study to consist of a heavily weighted group in favour of private development of the property. 

Interestingly, the state park in Buffalo went through years of such shenanigans, according to the article.

“There were five master plans developed for the outer harbor over the last fifty years and they all say the same thing: reserve the water’s edge for public access, and you’ll see private development follow. So that strategic vision is manifesting itself every day, so this is really just the build-out of many, many master plans.” (Brian Higgins, D-NY 26th Congressional District)

Not a bad idea. 

Some in Fort Erie look at this in reverse:

  Privately develop the water's edge and you'll see the public follow. Duh-oh.

UPDATE: Another year goes by and Fort Erie lets the coveted Blue Flag Destination go to other beaches. Those of use who want this designation for Crystal Beach have been frustrated in our attempts by the disregard of the environment and the potential of the Bay Beach Properties' South shore. Pity.

So, the former butt of jokes, Buffalo, is seeing more and more positive press for its innovations and smart growth. As a former resident of Buffalo who remembers the blight and inaccessibility of its waterfront, it is extremely gratifying to see what has been done to enhance the very pleasurable experience of the city's waterfront.

But Buffalo does not have a great sand beach in its wonderful waterfront parkland. It has boat slips, boats that ferry people through the harbour and lots of attractions. It will never have a pristine, sandy beach on site. The nearest decent beach is miles down the road. We have a great beach right in our own backyard. All we need to do is enhance the parkland that fronts it. Make it user-friendly with benches, shade and decent washrooms. Turn the south side parking lot into a picnic area. Add a bandstand. Whatever. 

Fort Erie: get your collective heads out of your nether regions and think about what your children and grandchildren will appreciate and cherish in the future. Will they cherish a high rise looming over the once (so-called) public beach?  Nah. Those of us with memories of the Crystal Beach Amusement Park are anything but amused now that a gated community stands on that once cherished land and the great sand beach is now inaccessible to the public. We are lucky that the Crystal Beach Tennis and Yacht Club developer "gave" the town a small piece of the beach and an alley to access it. With the purchase of the Bay Beach Properties in 2001, the town had a great opportunity to develop a first class beachfront park. 

We all remember how that worked out. Now, over a decade later, the town is poised to once again divest itself of its last legacy, one that gave the name Crystal Beach to the village.

In case you're getting ready to refute what I'm saying: a narrow alleyway from the road to the public beach through a large private development is no way to access our greatest asset.

The future of The Bay Beach Properties? 

Friday, May 22, 2015


Even the city of St. Catharines has had to make some tough decisions regarding its outdoor pools. On March 30, St. Catharines Council voted to close five pools in the city, citing failing attendance and high costs of rehabilitation. The projected savings to the taxpayers would be $228,000.

But, according to an article in The St. Catharines Standard, all hope is not lost for the Burgoyne Woods Pool. Due to a valiant community fundraising effort, over $80,000. of the $100,000. needed to operate the pool has been raised and it is expected that council will approve a staff report recommending the Burgoyne Woods Pool be opened in July, using the community donations.

Is there a lesson in this latest development? Yes, there is. Remember when there was a big effort to raise funds for the Kinsmen Pool? Started by a young woman who wanted to save the pool for future generations. She was pushed aside by Stephen Passero who became the "leader" of the effort. When he realized that it takes a lot of work to fund-raise, he put it on the back burner while he set his sights on public office. Once elected as Ward 1 Councillor, he did little or nothing to advance the cause of the pool until he decided to run for mayor. Then he suddenly hauled out some vague deal with a social club of divers. Didn't help him get elected mayor, but the tragic death of Ward 2 Councillor Rick Shular opened another opportunity for Passero to get into the political trough. So, he used the Kinsmen Pool once again to lull people into thinking that, through his efforts, the pool would open again this summer. Got him elected to Shular's vacant seat thanks to his friends from the Chamber of Commerce, already on council who ignored a staff recommendation to appoint the runner-up in the October 2014 election instead, voted to hold an expensive ($30,000.+) by election.

Now, people are patiently waiting for the promised opening of the Kinsmen Pool in July. Too bad Fort Erie didn't have someone like Jan Cook working to raise funds for the pool. Mr. Cook has been "working the phones" for two months and is very close to the $100,000. goal that will enable the children of St. Catharines to enjoy the pool from July 11 to September 4. All thanks to the people and businesses of St. Catharines.

Of course, the pools in St. Catharines were not allowed to get to the deplorable state of the Kinsmen Pool. At least the town recreation department seemed to have been run by a sober, qualified person, a far cry from the political hanger-on who held the post for years in Fort Erie. One of the old "hockey boys" of yore who was too busy taking care of his own bidness to worry about keeping the only pool in Fort Erie in good running condition. Now it's a money pit with a huge price tag to bring it up to code and operation. Far too much for a small social club to finance on its own and there is little grant money available for a crumbling mess that should be totally replaced. So, guess who will ultimately pay for the Kinsmen Pool refurbishment? Taxpayers who will already be hit in the pocketbook due to the budget of the new council.

I feel sorry for the kids in Fort Erie who don't have a supervised, safe  place to swim. We had such an outdoor pool in my old neighbourhood in Buffalo. It was built decades ago and is still operating every summer. Why? Because it has been taken care of and it sits in a busy family neighbourhood.

Good luck to the people of St. Catharines. Good job!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


The original estimate to replace the aging Burgoyne Bridge in St. Catharines was set at $52.5 million. That figure was thrown out quickly when the low tender came in at $69.91 million. At this point, the projected cost of the replacement bridge has soared to $91.35 million.

In a Niagara Falls Review article, Niagara Falls Regional Councillor Selina Volpatti, who has been questioning the costs of the project, fears that the project could "end up with a $120 million cost." 

As a result, a task force has been formed to monitor the situation and to determine how it came to blow the original budget. The task force will be looking into e-mails and correspondence between the Region's former commissioner of transportation and its former commissioner of public works, although there is no presumption of any wrong-doing, just answers to questions as to how the project got so out of hand budget-wise.

Stories like this will become more common as we go forward. I do like that the new Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin listened to councillors' concerns and set up a task force to look into the budget overrun. That would never happen in Fort Erie, especially now that the Chamber of Commerce runs the town. mayor Wayne Redekop has little power to rein in this council's spendthrift ways. The recent $500 K "gift" to the struggling racetrack and the $500 K "gift" to the already rich District School Board of Niagara for a new theatre at the new high school because a few dance moms want to hold their recitals in Fort Erie, yet OK'd the request to have the wrecking ball take down a heritage building and bell tower should make taxpayers realize that the new council does not care for the average person in Fort Erie, only those with a "vested interest," namely making money at the taxpayers' expense. When will the "jobs extortion" end? Only when people and the local media take a good, hard look at the connections and the cabals that have formed over the years that have nothing to do with providing jobs and a better life for regular folks.

Which brings us to the Kinsmen Pool and the real cost of its restoration and/or replacement. The original estimates are probably very low in light of inflation and cost overruns in other projects.
I can't help but feel that the taxpayers are going to pay big to achieve the dream/political ambitions of a Cassius-like member of council. Despite the statistics that show a sharp decline in the Kinsmen Pool use in the years prior to its closing in 2012 and the millions it would cost to replace; despite the paid-for study recommendation that the cost of refurbishment was a waste and time limited, some are still trying to save the pool that is a black hole of neglect on the landscape.

Perhaps if council weren't so easily extorted into giving "gifts" to other endeavors, there would be money available to replace and operate the outdoor pool.

We wait until July when the Kinsmen Pool is set for re-opening.


The Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce is having a golf tournament on June 22. Big problem! The problem is that the tournament IS NOT BEING HELD IN FORT ERIE!

Even the various brochures put out by the Chamber and the EDTC boast about the fine golf courses in Fort Erie, yet the CofC event is at Legends, quite a ways down the road from Fort Erie. Why? You may ask. I wonder too. After all, Bridgewater is the go-to place for chamber types. And there's always Cherry Hill although it is said that Jimmy T. wore out his welcome there a long time ago. (And I forgeot to mention the very fine I.C.C. course in Stevensville.)

What is wrong with these people?  I think they have been lulled by the CofC takeover of the Fort Erie Council into thinking they can do anything they want. Perhaps they are just trying to suck up to the Niagara Parks Commission which runs Legends. Whatever. The Fort Erie Chamber of Commerce has delivered a slap in the face to local golf courses.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Didn't want to do it, but it has become necessary as, once again, the Bay Beach Properties are in danger of being given over to private development (high rises.) Of course, this concept will be introduced again all neatly wrapped up in a one hundred grand consultant package brought to you by.....the same consulting firm that was used to justify the building of a twelve story condo tower on public waterfront lands in the first place.

Damn, we thought that the Master Plan for the Bay Beach Properties would take into account the desires of the people who live in the area who have been fighting, through legal channels, the former town planner's dream of a wall of condos along the shore of Bay Beach. At least ten years of struggle to save the last waterfront parcel on the public sand beach from private development. What does it take to save a potential parkland for the people? We know that the current council was elected by and for commercial interests. The campaign to discredit four duly-elected councillors was hatched amongst the very people who helped elect a Chamber of Commerce-centric council. Rather than being ashamed of the lies, misrepresentations and lawsuits against The Four, the new council revels in its ignorance and lack of innovation, thinking that "boring" is a good council meeting. 

 Wake up people.  They haven't gotten the bill for the $400,000 over budget from water main breaks this winter.  It is a common held belief from those at 1 Municipal Drive that the grand reckoning will come in 2017.  They all know that the fixes and catch up will be double digit tax increases the likes of which our town has never seen (even under Martin). 

Kris DubĂ© wrote an interesting piece in Bullet News this week. It must be read very carefully to really understand just how dangerous this new process can be to those who wish to keep the Bay Beach Properties in the public's hands.

 "The Town of Fort Erie's solicitor, Ed Lustig, said since Palmer was retained by the municipality and not the developer – council is legally free to move ahead with the Planning Partnership to begin a master plan for the area.
“My view was and is, at the present time, there is no conflict of interest,” he said at Monday night's council-in-committee meeting.
Lustig also said the firm has agreed to place a 'Chinese wall,' between Palmer and the rest of its team – an information barrier used in business settings to prevent the exchange of communication that could eventually result in a conflict of interest.
Palmer had not been previously contracted with the Molinaro Group – nor is he working for them on any projects currently, according to Lustig.
Another perceived conflict would be if the Planning Partnership is called as a witness in the ongoing legal matter, said Lustig. 
If this does happen, which Lustig said at this point would only be speculation, the municipality's argument would be that it gave the Molinaro Group all its approvals before they backed out of the agreement on their own, which is all contained in public documents. 
All of the planning decisions that were made were supported by the town, the majority of town council,” said Lustig.
On Dec. 31, 2013, the Molinaro Group backed out of its partnership with the Town of Fort Erie to build a 12-storey condo building on the south side of Erie Road after the majority of council voted not to grant an extension that would additional time to allow for more units being sold by the developer."

A so-called "Chinese Wall" is a method that law firms and other consultants use to avoid conflict of interest accusations. It is supposed to work, but it seldom does because there is so much interaction within a firm between employees. Can you imagine that Ron Palmer (late of the C.A.U.S.E. Study of 1996; the Bay Beach Consultation that gave the go-ahead to the Molinaros where he was the lead person; and now the Bay Beach Master Plan) is not going to be influenced by his previous recommendations? Any person who can help write the C.A.U.S.E.  Study that gave Crystal Beach a blueprint for a "hidden gem" that should acquire and keep as much waterfront property as possible and then recommend that the town give a high rise developer the last piece of public waterfront property in Crystal Beach is not to be trusted to come up with a master plan for that property. 

Is there no other consulting firm in the province that doesn't have such an incestuous relationship with the Bay Beach Properties? 


The once ugly waterfront of Buffalo is being transformed! Finally, the city woke up to the potential of its vast waterfront. The latest effort is the Buffalo Harbor State Park. From the article:

"A greenspace turned destination, the first phase of Buffalo Harbor State Park is nearing completion. Crews are currently putting the final details on a nautical themed playground, pavilions, shade structures, and landscaping just in time for warmer weather."
Wouldn't something like this be nice for the waterfront side of The Bay Beach Properties? Notice that it is a state park, like our provincial parks. It will not be sold, privately developed or taken away from the people because it is protected by its state park designation. Our Bay Beach seems to be up for grabs to developers despite the will of the people. I suggest that people in other parts of the town look at their favourite local park/playground and then imagine it being given over to a high rise developer despite the efforts of the residents to keep it in the public hands. How would you feel if your kids' soccer field became a high rise development? 

The people of Crystal Beach have welcomed the South Coast development on Ridgeway Road because it fits in nicely with the character and tone of Crystal Beach. Lots of cottages are being bought and rehabbed and there are new builds in empty lots all through the Beach. Take a look if you don't believe me.

June 13: Crystal Beach Community Garage Sale. 8:00 AM - ?

Followed by Best Behaviour in the Park free band concert at Queen's Circle starting at 1:00 PM. The Crystal Beach Firefighters Association - Fort Erie Station 6 will have food and drinks on hand. Proceeds will be used to add a new swing feature to the Cpl. Albert Storm Playground at Waterfront Park.