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Latest News - September 2014

September 7, 2014
Niagara Falls officials fear Water Board may do away with fire hydrant art initiative downtown
Source: Niagara Gazette
By: Justin Sondel

Colorful designs have popped up on downtown fire hydrants but they might not be sticking around.

That’s because city officials say the Niagara Falls Water Board may be considering painting over some of the designs on the hydrants — crafted by a group of volunteers as part of a public art initiative downtown — returning them to their original color.

Paul Drof, the water board’s executive director, has not returned multiple calls from the Gazette over the course of the past few weeks.

However, John Ottaviano, the water board attorney, confirmed that there are some issues with the hydrant-painting program that need to be worked out.

The program has expanded to more than 20 hydrants while water board officials were under the impression that only a handful would be painted, he said.

“The water board wants to work with the city,” Ottaviano said, “but there’s got to be reason on both sides.”

For instance, he said, the program could cause issues identifying hydrants, as water board hydrants are painted yellow while private industry hydrants are painted red.

And the maintenance work on the hydrants is reserved for union labor, he added.

“If they’re going to paint a lot of these hydrants there could be a grievance,” Ottaviano said.

Despite the issues, Ottaviano said he is sure the water board will continue to negotiate with the city to make the program work.

“I know they’re trying to work it out and I think they will,” he said.

Niagara Falls Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo had a meeting scheduled for Friday afternoon with Drof but it was cancelled and Piccirillo said he was told the water board’s director was on vacation when he arrived at the Buffalo Avenue offices.

Piccirillo sent a letter to Niagara Falls Water Board Chairman Ted Janese III to address the issue on Aug. 17, saying he had tried multiple times to reach out to water board staff with no response and has continued to seek a meeting since.

“I was recently informed that the (Niagara Falls Water Authority) staff now objects to the painting of these hydrants, threatening to paint over them,” Piccirillo said in the letter. “Our volunteer group completely respects that the hydrants are NFWA property. We also are not attempting to paint hydrants citywide, or take any work from NFWA employees. We are simply trying to do something in our city to make a small, positive change.”

Piccirillo said he will again try to set up a meeting with Drof next week, as he hopes to sit down with the water board executive soon.

“I’m hoping to do that as soon as possible,” Piccirillo said.

The hydrants, like some of the murals that have been popping up downtown, work to bring a lively feeling to the neighborhood and it would be counterproductive to paint over them at this point, added Piccirillo.

“It’s stopping something that’s just a simple beautification project,” he said.

Piccirillo said he believes there is a way for the city and water board to find a solution that makes everyone happy.

“We think there’s a compromise here,” he said. “Let’s figure it out.”

Danielle DePalma, a local art teacher and artist, came up with the idea to paint the hydrants and approached the water board and the city last summer.

DePalma, who painted the hydrants with a few friends earlier this year, said she has received an overwhelmingly positive response to the public artwork and would be extremely disappointed if the water board decides to paint over them.

“I think that would be a slap in the face to everyone who lives here and enjoys them,” she said. 

DePalma said she worked with the city’s community development department and was under the understanding that the project had been approved.

As she and her fellow artists were painting, people from the neighborhood and tourists would stop to ask what they were doing and offer words of encouragement, she added.

“They live off Third Street,” DePalma said. “They live down the block. It brings an interest to everyday life.”




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