Big Boost for Buffalo River Restoration
New funding will support restoration of the Buffalo River and put it on track to be removed from the list of Great Lakes “toxic hotspots” by 2019, the Great Lakes Commission announced yesterday in Buffalo.
Nearly $4.7 million is being provided to restore degraded shoreline and create natural habitat at seven sites along the river in the City of Buffalo. The upcoming work builds on more than a decade of planning and analysis by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which coordinates restoration efforts for the Buffalo River in cooperation with state and federal agencies and other partners.
The shoreline restoration work complements water quality improvements managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and is integrated with significant new economic development projects taking place along the river supported by Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development program and other public and private investments.
The funding comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program that is cleaning up heavily polluted “Areas of Concern” and addressing other problems in the lakes. The Great Lakes Commission is partnering with the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to design and implement the restoration work over the next three years.
“Western New York thrives off of its proximity to fresh water,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “As our waterfront transforms we are increasingly aware of the interconnectivity between the water and the local economy. Continued federal investment in restoring the Buffalo River is an environmental and economic win for residents today and future generations. We commend the Great Lakes Commission and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper for their stewardship and commitment to our lakes and rivers.”
When fully implemented, the projects will restore nearly two miles of shoreline and more than 20 acres of habitat at seven sites on the lower Buffalo River: Riverbend, Riverfest Park, Blue Tower Turning Basin, Old Bailey Woods, Ohio Street Boat Launch, Katherine Street Peninsula and Buffalo Color Peninsula.
The funding complements nearly $75 million leveraged over the past decade by the Buffalo River Restoration Partnership to remove toxic pollutants from the river and implement other cleanup actions. The contaminated sediment cleanup, currently underway and targeted for completion in December, is expected to remove nearly one million cubic yards of heavily polluted sediment from the Buffalo River and the City Ship Canal.
With this progress, the Buffalo River is on track to be removed from the Area of Concern list by 2019. In its newly released Action Plan for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aims to complete cleanup work on the Buffalo River and nine other Areas of Concern over the next five years.
“The industrialization of the past century helped make our country strong, but it also came with costs to our environment,” said Buck Sutter, Director of NOAA’s Office of Habitat Conservation. “The restoration we’re doing today reflects smart, long-term thinking about the future. NOAA is proud to be supporting this community in its efforts to restore the Buffalo River and to create a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for the next generation.”
“The Buffalo River restoration is a critical element of Buffalo’s economic and environmental revitalization, and this new funding adds even more energy and momentum to Buffalo’s resurgence,” said New York DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens. “I’m very excited by this opportunity to partner with NOAA, the Great Lakes Commission and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to enhance the Buffalo River’s shoreline habitat. I warmly welcome the Great Lakes Commission to the great City of Buffalo for its 2014 Annual Meeting.”
Great Lakes Commission Executive Director Tim Eder acknowledged the significance of the Buffalo River restoration project. “Buffalo’s waterfront is undergoing one of the largest river restoration and economic revitalization efforts in the country and is a leading example of how environmental remediation can drive economic development,” Eder said. “The Great Lakes Commission is thrilled to be able to help advance the ‘Blue Economy’ in Buffalo.”
“For 25 years, Riverkeeper has advanced a vision of a thriving Buffalo Riverfront, one that establishes a healthy and restored waterway as the foundation for community and economic revitalization,” said Jill Jedlicka, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper executive director. “Riverkeeper and our partners are accomplishing something that was deemed impossible-the restoration and recovery of a once-dead river. Through the combination of innovative collaborations, our ability to secure highly competitive funding and the desire of the community to reclaim its waterfront, together we are transforming our region from rust to blue.”
The Buffalo River was designated as one of 43 Areas of Concern in 1987 under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due to poor water quality, contaminated sediments, hazardous waste sites, point and nonpoint source pollution, combined sewer overflows, and degraded fish and wildlife habitat.
Recent restoration actions build on more than 25 years of work by federal, state and local agencies, nonprofit organizations, and assistance from landowners, businesses and community groups to restore environmental quality in the river.
The upcoming habitat restoration projects are drawn from Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and the Buffalo River Ecological Restoration Master Plan, which provided a framework for ecological restoration of the river guided by community priorities, including economic revitalization, recreational opportunities, land development and greenspace preservation.