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Plans for WNY emergency management hub hinge on acquisition of Army-owned site

Avery Schneider

Plans for turning a former Army Reserve Center in Niagara Falls into Western New York’s emergency management hub are inching closer to success. After securing half a million dollars for the hub in the 2015-2016 state budget, State Senator Rob Ortt has organized a steering committee to help determine the site’s future.

The group – comprised of local, state, and federal-level stakeholders – toured parts of the nearly 20-acre site in the southwest corner of the Niagara Falls Airport on Thursday. It is home to large and unused World War II-era buildings, among which the largest is a hangar facility that Ortt aims to see used as a home for Mercy Flight.

“This first phase, which is what the $500,000 really envisions is for the Mercy Flight phase,” said Ortt. “Making that hangar and making the adjacent space work for them, for their needs, and what they’re looking for.”

That first phase cannot happen until acquisition of the site is finalized. That depends on the U.S. Army – the site’s current owner – and the Town of Niagara finalizing an economic development conveyance – a process that transfers ownership at a cost below fair market value for the purpose of creating jobs.

Ortt said the conveyance is not expected to be completed until at least 2016. He noted that the purpose of the steering committee meetings is to discuss the possibilities for use of the site, and be ready when the conveyance happens.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Inside view of the hangar at the former Niagara Falls Army Reserve base.

Ortt said whether or not there will be a need for additional funding in the first phase is unknown, but assures that whatever costs are to come will be tied to actual work.

“So we’re not going to be throwing some money at the wall and hoping we get to a certain point. We’ll know exactly what we’re going to get out of that funding and once that’s completed, we’ll obviously have to look for additional sources of funding to continue,” said Ortt.

Beyond a home for Mercy Flight, Ortt sees the hub as a potential site for storage of emergency supplies and equipment, and training for first responders, law enforcement, and federal agencies. He said it is a prospect that appeals to many different organizations.

“When you talk about emergency response, when you talk about some of the agencies, we spoke to Border Patrol. They expressed maybe some interest in being here,” said Ortt. “Obviously you have the military units, and of course you have the border right there. You could have training with Canadian emergency services as well as Niagara County and Western new York services, who do coordinate a lot I’m sure when it comes to emergency response.”

Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee Wallace said the uses that are planned for the emergency management hub have only just scratched the surface.

“It’s like if we left the starting blocks, we’ve taken two steps and the finish line is a long way away not just for the facility itself but for the possibilities of what could happen. So it’s really, really in the infant stages. To get into ownership, who’s going to maintain it, who’s going to take care of the O & M and all that I think is way too premature,” said Wallace.

Wallace said funding for the hub is key, but is a burden the town could not lay on its taxpayers. For now, that leaves the question unanswered of who will fund the hub’s operation after its construction. Ortt said the project is a good candidate for state and federal funding, which Wallace is hoping for as well.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
A site overview of the former Niagara Falls Army Reserve base and surrounding Niagara Falls Airport.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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