Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster had a Department of Public Works crew taking down dead trees all of a sudden, and he has taken out the girls baseball diamond at Jayne Park on Cayuga Island.
Normally these actions might not arouse suspicion. But this is election season.
As readers know, Jayne Park is a quiet, all-green neighborhood park that Dyster once planned to convert into a regional park with paved parking, asphalt trails and canoe launches.
More than 370 residents of this quiet island of less than 400 homes signed a petition two years ago to stop the plan.
No one seems to know why work is being done now. But City Hall has received numerous calls from angry Cayuga Island residents wondering what Dyster is up to.
In the past, Dyster's Jayne Park plans were such that he never found it prudent to consult with Island residents. In fact, it was the Niagara Falls Reporter that made residents aware of Dyster's plan to develop Jayne Park in the first place.
Jayne Park, spanning about 20 acres, was dedicated in 1937, designed as an oasis of green for the small, developing, exclusively residential Cayuga Island, which to this day has no commercial enterprises anywhere on the island.
The absence of a parking lot in Jayne Park is by design. The park was intended for locals to use to walk there and meet and enjoy quiet recreation.
Dyster's plan is to make two large parking lots, asphalt walking trails and significantly a number of canoe launches while clearing out vegetation along the banks of the Little Niagara River.
His plan will make the park a central gathering point for canoeists and kayakers, designating it as a stop on the Blueway Trail. By installing restrooms and other amenities, it will serve as an inviting party point for parkgoers from Buffalo to Lockport. It could serve in some ways as a compact Ellicott Creek Park, where canoeists could start and end their outings, and people from throughout the region could gather there and hold family picnics and parties.
Dyster had completed plans and was ready to start work without once consulting with the neighbors, in spite of the fact that his wife was a committeeperson representing Cayuga Island, and in spite of the fact that there are perfectly adequate canoe-launching facilities, restrooms and picnic amenities directly across the narrow Little River at nearby Griffon Park.
Griffon Park, which is outside the island and farther away from quiet residences, is literally 100 feet across the river from the water boundary of Jayne Park as the crow flies, or as the kayaker paddles, and already serves to provide every recreational opportunity Dyster plans for Jayne Park.
This interesting fact prompted some critics to suggest that Dyster only wanted to develop Jayne Park in order to spend public money to reward certain campaign contributors -- something Dyster denies.
Dyster has friends and political allies like Riverkeeper buddy Ken Sherman, and some of these repeatedly say that Cayuga Island residents are "selfish" in their demand "to hog the park" all to themselves.
The park, funded by taxpayers, belongs to everyone, Dyster said.
Because it is located on Cayuga Island does not mean only Cayuga Island residents have the right to enjoy it, Dyster told theReporter back in January.
Meanwhile, Dyster has kept his Jayne Park plan under the radar as he creeps along toward election time.
Yet critics say that he might need to let his friends know the Jayne Park plan is still alive but must remain dormant until after the election.
Dyster's Jayne Park plan, if executed, will almost certainly see several hundred thousand dollars go into the hands of various Buffalo campaign contributors, including certain members of the Buffalo Riverkeepers, whose members and friends would quite possibly get the work to design and develop Jayne Park.
Dyster denies there is anything inappropriate in any of this.
"Naturally, every politician solicits campaign donations. Your hope is that the people who donate won't expect special favors from you, but (will donate) to get good government," he said.
Sources at City Hall say, however, that it can't be a coincidence that contributors from Buffalo consistently emerge with work.
After all, why are so many design and engineering companies from Buffalo donating $1,000 or more to Dyster's campaign? Are they really that interested in good government in Niagara Falls?
Over two years ago, Dyster was almost ready to roll out the bulldozers, when the Reporter published the first in our series exposing his plan on May 12, 2009.
He met with angry residents, and with his hapless sidekick Tom DeSantis even tried to show them an outdated plan, instead of the real plan, something the Reporter called him out on, after getting the actual plans on file with the Greenway Commission.
They tried to fool the public.
Now, more than two years later, something is up. They are removing baseball diamonds right where a parking lot could conceivably go. Red cones, digging, a dumpster? Perhaps it is innocent enough.
Of course, Cayuga Island residents should not expect anything to happen before the election. Dyster is no fool. Perhaps he is laying groundwork and providing people who have assisted him in his campaign with warm and fuzzy feelings, and visions of park redevelopment work forthcoming as soon as the election passes and the ugly voices of the obstructionist and NIMBY (not in my back yard) residents are silenced.
Four-year terms cure many evils.
Residents the Reporter spoke to said that in addition to other unexplained work, certain "yuppie types" on repeated occasions have parked on Joliet Avenue across from the park and brought in "nice new kayaks" that they launched in Jayne Park off the shore of the Little Niagara River.
It is rare, if not unknown, to see people launching kayaks from Jayne Park, since there is no actual launch there and they have to drag their kayaks through the weeds, brush and marsh along the river shore.
The descriptions of these kayakers sounded an awful lot like Dyster's Riverkeeper types, who are hell-bent on getting some $290,000 of public money spent on Jayne Park, no matter what residents think.
The mysterious kayakers could have launched from Griffon Park directly across the river far more easily, since there are several launches there.
It may be innocent enough, or they may be biding their time while marking trails and devising where and how to develop Jayne Park at its best. Or it may be a coincidence that suddenly, unusual usage of the park is occurring from people clearly not from the island.
If a sadly masochistic electorate determines to punish themselves and their children, and re-elect Paul Dyster, the residents can expect that he will, mark my words, radically change Jayne Park along the lines of his original plan. He and his friends will.
Jayne Park will never be the same. Neither will Cayuga Island.
And the Reporter will be there to write, "I told you so."