Our top stories of the year

Investigative Post exposed environmental problems, political shenanigans during 2013
Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

This is the time of year when news organizations look back at the biggest stories of the past 12 months, and while I hate to follow any pack, such a review is in order for our fledgling organization.

Dan Telvock and I produced some 55 stories, 75 blog posts and a dozen in-depth interviews in 2013. That body of work was read, viewed and listened to by a collective audience that approached 6 million through our website and news outlets that distributed our stories, primarily WGRZ TV, and also Artvoice, WBFO FM and The Buffalo News.

I’m especially pleased with our coverage of three vital issues – the Peace Bridge, recycling in the city, and the Buffalo Billion and other economic development projects.

Dan produced a series of stories that dealt with the public health impacts of the Peace Bridge on the minority, low-income residents who live in its shadow. His story in May documented the problem, which include asthma rates that are nearly four times the national average.

He later reported on how Cuomo’s push for construction at the Peace Bridge belied his campaign promises, then caught state officials in a lie when they claimed air quality testing had given the neighborhood a clean bill of health and reported that, contrary to claims, planned road improvements leading to the bridge would not improve air quality.

I spent a good part of the summer debunking Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s claims that the American side of the Peace Bridge had been shortchanged by Canadian officials and otherwise setting the record straight on the phony crisis the governor created in his failed effort to seize control of the expansion of the bridge plaza. I also documented the Peace Bridge Authority’s lack of transparency when it comes to something as simple as who works there and how much money they make.

Likewise, we played watchdog on the governor’s efforts to revitalize the regional economy through his pledge of $1 billion in economic development aid. I did an analysis on how the governor’s approach to economic development differs from the failed efforts of the past and was the first to report on details of the plan to invest $225 million to attract two clean energy companies to the city.

On a related front, we documented the seemingly endless subsidies Delaware North has sought to stay put in Buffalo.

Not to be overlooked was our coverage of the governor’s plan to open Gallagher Beach in South Buffalo for public swimming. We first reported that the beach is neighbors with two toxic Superfund sites that leach all sorts of nasty chemicals into the water. We then reported that the state was unwilling to commit to testing the water for safety until, in the face of our reporting, officials relented and pledged to conduct an extensive review.

We also took a look at pollution elsewhere in the region, which hosts three of the state’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses.

We also exposed local political shenanigans: Republicans offering a job to mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez in an effort to keep him off the ballot and the Board of Elections’ refusal to investigate; and Common Council Majority Leader Demone Smith’s continued refusal to pay penalties for his failure to file campaign finance disclosure reports.

The latter story includes one of my favorite on-camera exchanges of the year, which I simply refer to as the “bill collector interview.” Take a look.

Our reporting has had impact. In response to our stories, the state not only announced they would test the water at Gallagher Beach, but expand the next phase of air monitoring near the Peace Bridge.

Dan’s relentless reporting about Buffalo’s half-hearted recycling efforts, and absolutely no effort at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, resulted in the city filling a long-vacant recycling coordinator position and stepping up efforts in both City Hall and public schools.

And, in response to a series that aired and published in 2012, city officials finally took steps to collect millions in unpaid Housing Court fines.

Out of curiosity, I reviewed our analytics to find out which were the most-read stories of the year on our website.

Here’s the Top 10:

  1. Cancer rates in the Town of Tonawanda.
  2. Asian Carp invasion of the Great Lakes, courtesy of Justin Sondel.
  3. Sewage flows in local waterways.
  4. Buffalo is not Denver (or, what I found out on my summer vacation).
  5. Troubled waters at Gallagher Beach.
  6. Clean energy firms coming to Buffalo thanks to $225 million state investment.
  7. Terry Pegula used Sabres as a backdrop to promote hydrofracking.
  8. Developers compete for Buffalo Billion work.
  9. Buffalo schools fail on health and physical education instruction.
  10. Gov. Cuomo’s huffing and puffing on the Peace Bridge.

OK, folks, now it’s your turn to tell us what you think. Below is a poll we’ll keep open for a week. Tell us which story you liked the best. You can only vote once, so make it count.

Best story of 2013?

  • Troubled waters at Gallagher Beach (37%, 24 Votes)
  • Numbers, history belie Cuomo on Peace Bridge (17%, 11 Votes)
  • Delaware North's endless subsidies (17%, 11 Votes)
  • Smell surrounding Peace Bridge air study (12%, 8 Votes)
  • Asthma plagues Peace Bridge neighborhood (11%, 7 Votes)
  • Stonewalling at the Peace Bridge (6%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 65

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