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Controversy swirls in Maid of the Mist's wake

   It's one of the longest concession leases for any state park in New York, and it was renewed in 2002 with no public bidding and no public hearing.

   The Maid of the Mist Corp.'s lease with the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was signed in September 2002 by Edward J. Rutkowski, former assistant deputy commissioner for the Western District, and will expire in 2043.

   Despite its unusual length, the contract renewal drew little attention. A decision that the boat excursion company qualified as a "sole source" provider that does not require public bidding or a public hearing was approved by the state Comptroller's Office in 2003.

   More than five years later, the Niagara Parks Commission in Canada has renegotiated its contract with the Maid of the Mist and is expected to ask the Executive Council of Ontario to approve the deal soon, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism said.

   But some are crying foul … including a Niagara Parks commissioner in Ontario who had served on a committee that oversees renegotiating the deal.

   Commissioner Bob Gale said he grew concerned that he and other committee members weren't given information that a representative from another company -- Ripley's Entertainment -- had requested information about submitting a proposal to compete with the Maid of the Mist.

   Gale wants the process for negotiating the Maid of the Mist lease to become more transparent.

   Many of the terms of the Maid of the Mist's existing contract to use Canadian land to dock its boats have not been made public.

   Do you think parks leaders in New York state or in Ontario have gotten this right?

   Should the Maid of the Mist's long history, international business arrangements and unique location qualify it for special consideration when it comes to leasing public land?

  -- Denise Jewell Gee


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