Gowanda mayor requests easement from school

OBSERVER Photo by Mary Heyl The village of Gowanda is requesting an easement from the school to pave the roadway and create a parking lot near Aldrich Street for improved fishing access on Cattaraugus Creek.

GOWANDA — Gowanda Village Mayor David Smith attended a recent meeting of the Gowanda Central School Board to share exciting progress that the village is making. In addition to progress on the flood mitigation project, the village has also received $2.5 million from the state to improve fishing access areas. Smith, who also serves as assistant principal for grades 5-12, is hopeful that the school board will allow the fishing area near the Aldrich Street bridge to be part of this project.

According to Smith, “The village has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State DEC to make significant headway towards a $6.7 million flood mitigation project for Gowanda.” He went on to explain that the village has already secured the local share of $1.2 million in full, which is a key component of the project.

Upon its completion, there will be no more flood plain in Gowanda and no flood insurance requirement for residents in the former flood plain.“The most recent timeline we received from the Army Corps of Engineers for approval, public hearing and completion of flood mitigation…is three years from right now: July 2021,” Smith stated.

Most recently, the village has received Smart Growth funding from the state DEC in the amount of $2.5 million. Smith explained that the projects must have direct economic benefit for the community, and he pointed to the popularity of rafting and fishing in the village, especially during steelhead trout season.

The fishing area near Aldrich Street is one of three targeted areas for this project. Smith acknowledged that the school owns this property, but by allowing local residents to use it for fishing, the school has made it an unofficial public space. The proposed access project will formalize the already existing access point to Cattaraugus Creek by paving a 24-feet wide access road to lead to a parking area by the water, which will accommodate an estimated six to 10 vehicles. The project would also include an entrance sign with appropriate cautionary language placed at Panther Drive for a total project cost of $155,000.

Smith explained, “In order to make those improvements, the state requires us to own the land or gain access to the land.” On behalf of the village, Smith presented the board with a request for a perpetual access easement. “Basically, this is fancy language for the school letting the village access that property in perpetuity, which means forever…mainly to go onto that property for the purpose of construction.” Smith emphasized that the agreement states the school is not responsible for any injuries or damages, including attorney’s fees, that could occur during construction.

Board President Cynthia Sutherland responded, “I’m concerned about liability afterward. If we allow improvement of that and it becomes more attractive to people and someone gets hurt, are we more liable?” Another board member, Mark Nephew, inquired about future costs and maintenance, such as repaving.

Smith explained that the school would maintain the parking area and assume liability, since it will remain school property. However, the school would receive $155,000 worth of free improvements, which would increase the asset value of the school district at no cost to the district. He said the village would maintain the top of the parking area, as it is part of the village’s pumping station. Board member Janet Vogtli suggested, “Let’s let our school attorney look at this. It’s a good idea. The village has been trying to bring people in for tourism.”

School Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson inquired about the village’s timeline. Smith explained, “It’s not as time sensitive as you might think. Let’s give the lawyers time to review and be thorough. We can always start with other projects. If we got something back (from the school board) by October, that would be a good thing.”

At the close of his presentation, Smith said, “I look at this as a great opportunity we’re in — a unique spot here — to have a mayor that’s also a school administrator here…to open up real, two-way communication between the village and the school. I look at this as the first of many opportunities to do that.”