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Review live chat with Niagara Falls School Board's Johnny Destino

Heritage Area Commission meets Wednesday

The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Commission will meet and hold a public information session Wednesday at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University in Lewiston.

A commission business meeting will be held from 4 to 6:30 p.m., with the information session to follow from 7 to 9 p.m. The business meeting is also open to the public.

The information session will feature a presentation by A. Elizabeth Watson, of the consulting firm Heritage Strategies, on "approaches followed by other National Heritagea Areas," according to a press release.

The federal commission is tasked with drawing up a plan for a heritage area, aimed at boosting regional tourism.

Niagara University professor Thomas Chambers was recently elected chairman of the commission.

For more information and background on the commission -- including its members -- check out my previous stories: when the commission was seated, after it began meeting in December and when it held its second meeting last month.

11:43 a.m. update: The late-afternoon business meeting will include an official public comment period, and the evening session will be less formal while allowing for full participation by members of the public, according to Chambers.

--Aaron Besecker

Love wine this weekend

The Niagara Wine Trail gets a year's worth of special events rolling this weekend when "Be Mine with Wine" takes place at the 13 wineries along the trail, which runs through Niagara County and into Orleans County.

The event runs through Sunday and features wine and chocolate pairings.

The concept is a growth from the "3/50 project," designed to support local businesses.

 Cinda Baxter, project organizer, suggests each person pick three local businesses and spend $50. By spending the money in a local business, $34 goes back into the local community. Baxter uses the theme "Saving the brick and mortars our nation is built on."

Niagara Wine Trail members decided that partnering with a local chocolate maker would be delicious, educational and fun.

The following Wineries have announced that their partners are as follows:

Schulze Vineyards: All That Chocolate, Wilson 

Marjim Manor: Niagara Honeymoon Sweets, Niagara Falls

Vizcarra Vineyards: Becker Farms, Gasport

Leonard Oakes Estate: Stuffed Chocolate Lmt., Amherst

Honeymoon Trail: Barker Chocolate Box, Barker

Eveningside Vineyards: Niagara Chocolates, Buffalo

Black Willow Winery: Local Chocolatier from Dove Chocolate Discoveries

Arrowhead Spring: Choco-Logo, Buffalo

Freedom Run Winery: Denise Manning-Czyrny, Chocolatier

Niagara Landing Wine Cellars: Niagara Landing's "Chocolate Dream" served with Watson's

Tickets are $20 plus tax presale on the Niagara Wine Trail website,, or $25 plus tax at the door of each of the winery, and are good throughout the weekend.



Audio: North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt's State of the City

NORTH TONAWANDA -- Mayor Robert G. Ortt issued his annual State of the City address this afternoon at The Fairways at Deerwood restaurant on Sweeney Street.

Listen to Ortt's full speech:

Here's a review of some of the high points from the address:

1:33 p.m.: Among the dignitaries attending today's speech: Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker; North Tonawanda Schools Superintendent Gregory J. Woytila; Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour; Kaleida Health Vice President Anthony Zito; Niagara USA Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Deanna Alterio Brennan;  Tonawandas Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joyce Santiago; former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek; as well as various city department heads and other city employees.

1:26 p.m.: Ortt just wrapped up an approximately 25-minute address.

Check back soon to listen to full audio of the address.

1:24 p.m.: Under current projections, the city will have to eliminate 20 positions under next year's budget, Ortt said.

1:19 p.m.: The city will face at least a $2 million budget deficit next year, Ortt said.

The mayor said he will ask each department head to reduce their departmental budgets by 5 percent next year.

1:14 p.m.: Ortt says he hopes there will be a groundbreaking this year on the planned Walmart supercenter at Niagara Falls Boulevard and Erie Avenue.

1:11 p.m.: The Tonawandas Gateway Harbor Committee will not hold Friday night concerts this year in Gateway Park, instead putting on four Saturday night concerts, in addition to Wednesday night shows, Ortt said.

City officials should begin seeking a promoter for Saturday night concerts for 2012, he said.

1:05 p.m.: A study on the site of the former Niagara River Yacht Club will be presented to the Common Council on March 8, Ortt tells the crowd.

1:01 p.m.: "The City of North Tonawanda is at a crossroads," Ortt says beginning the main portion of his speech, after his greetings to the crowd of about 55 people on hand.

--Aaron Besecker

The Niagara Power Project turns 50

LEWISTON -- A small army of men and machines moved into Niagara Falls and Lewiston half a century ago to build the $720 million Niagara Power Project that forever changed the face of the lower Niagara River gorge and ignited unending debate over the project itself, the allocation of electricity and the project's legacy.

As remembered in today's Buffalo News Niagara Weekend section, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller flipped a symbolic red-handled switch at 11:35 a.m. on Feb. 10, 1961, that formally put into service the largest water-driven power complex in the free world.

The governor said it was a "great and exciting moment in the history of the state," as power from the Niagara Gorge at Lewiston went into a high-voltage transmission line and almost immediately was consumed in homes, farms and industries of the region.

Were you there when that army of men and machines dug into the rock wall of the gorge to build the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant and its associated Lewiston Pump Generating Station?

Did you work on the project that channelled millions of gallons of water beneath the City of Niagara Falls to fill the huge reservoir that flooded out part of the Tuscarora Indian Reservation?

Do you remember those heady days when the state's "master builder," Robert Moses, was building expressways, housing projects, parks, hydroelectric projects and so many other innovations that endure to this day?

How about sharing some of those memories with us? Did the power project change your life? Did it live up to the expectation of providing vast amounts of low-cost electricity to the Niagara Frontier? How would you like to see the power that flows from the plant during the next half-century -- and the money it brings to the New York Power Authority -- put to use?

 -- News Niagara Reporter Richard E. Baldwin


Forum for veterans planned in North Tonawanda

NORTH TONAWANDA -- A community forum for veterans will be held at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10 in Common Council chambers in City Hall, 216 Payne Ave.

The program's agenda includes presentations by Thomas Konopka, director of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 77; Jill LaMantia, of Veterans Administration Hospital, Buffalo, who will talk about benefits available to women veterans; as well as representatives who can speak about benefits available to veterans, including those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Audience members will be able to ask questions and set up appointments with representatives to get more information.

The event is part of a quarterly series sponsored by City Clerk-Treasurer Scott P. Kiedrowski. For more information about the session, call 695-8555.

--Aaron Besecker

Another unique hazardous waste site

A unique hazardous waste site in New York state recently failed a test for cancer-causing emissions.

But this one's not in Niagara County.

Norlite, the state's only commercial hazardous waste incinerator, exceeded the amount of dioxin it emitted during a self test last fall, according to the Albany Times-Union.

The facility is located in the City of Cohoes, in Albany County.

CWM Chemical Services, located on Balmer Road in the Town of Porter, hosts the only commercial hazardous waste landfill in New York.

--Aaron Besecker