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Buffalo River remarkable recovery continues with $44 million sediment clean up

by jmaloni

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Mon, Sep 23rd 2013 05:45 pm

Second phase of 6.2-mile effort, resulted from unique public, private, nonprofit collaboration

Community leaders, private industry, state and federal representatives joined forces to kick off the next phase of major investment into the restoration of 6.2 miles of the Buffalo River. This internationally recognized project is one of the largest river cleanups in the country.

The Buffalo River Restoration Partnership includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes National Program Office, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Honeywell, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Over the past decade, the combined efforts from the various partners in this partnership have leveraged nearly $75 million into restoration of the Buffalo River and its shoreline, making it one of the Great Lakes most successful revitalization efforts.

"For the past 25 years, Riverkeeper has put forth a vision for a thriving Buffalo riverfront - one that looks to a healthy and restored waterway as the foundation for revitalization," said Jill Jedlicka, Riverkeeper executive director. "Through the combination of innovative partnerships, the ability to secure highly competitive funding, and the desire of the community to reclaim its waterfront, together we are making the transformation from rust to blue."

Over the past five years, the federal government has committed $1.37 billion to Great Lakes restoration investing in habitat restoration, removal of toxic sediment, removal of invasive species and green infrastructure. In New York state alone, 108 restoration projects have been supported, some of which have contributed to rebuilding habitats and fisheries in the Buffalo/Niagara watershed, reducing storm water pollution and improving water quality.

"We see the benefits of Western New York's proximity to fresh water growing at a rapid pace, and this project is essential to sustaining that momentum," said Congressman Brian Higgins, a member of the congressional great lakes task force. "Restoring the Buffalo River makes sense environmentally and economically. I commend the project partners whose contributions today will improve the Buffalo River for generations to come."

"The energy, enthusiasm and excitement in Buffalo to embrace its waterfront is what will help with the rebirth of this city," said Cameron Davis, senior adviser to the U.S. EPA Administrator. "And that rebirth starts with the completion of the cleanup, which we're announcing today."

Water restoration investments have set the foundation for the changes now seen along the Buffalo River with major industrial sites restored, new private sector developments, eco-tourism and water sports once again thriving. According to research from the Brookings Institute, every $1 invested in restoration generates $2 in economic benefit and up to $4 in economic activity through jobs, development, tourism and property values.

"Honeywell is proud to be working in partnership with the Great Lakes National Program Office of EPA, the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, the DEC, and the U.S. Army Corps on a cleanup that reflects the community's vision of a restored Buffalo River," said Evan van Hook, Honeywell vice president for health, safety, environment and sustainability. "The remediation utilizes each partner's knowledge, resources and expertise, and is a catalyst for economic development as well as expanded recreational opportunities."

This partnership brings together resources and expertise to the planned comprehensive cleanup of the Buffalo River. This includes employing innovative and integrated solutions to key challenges that still exist with the Buffalo River, including contaminated river sediments, poor water quality, and insufficient fish and wildlife habitat.

Organizers said restoration of the ecological health and integrity of the Buffalo River is driving Western New York's regional transformation from an industrial rust belt city to a Great Lakes City with a blue economy. This work is a major driver for smart growth priorities on water restoration in the Regional Economic Development Council's Plan for Prosperity. Restoring the health of this local waterway contributes to a healthy regional economy. 

"The long-term investment that we need to make here in Western New York to adequately protect and preserve our unparalleled Great Lakes water resources provides the opportunity for the influx of billions of dollars into our local economy, as well as the creation of much-needed jobs" Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.

This project follows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 2011-12 navigational dredging that removed 550,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the middle of the river. This environmental cleanup will remove approximately 488,000 cubic yards - about 33,000 truckloads - of contaminated sediment from the sides of the river.

"The Corps of Engineers supports the administration's commitment to restore the Great Lakes and provide value to the nation through maintenance dredging of the Buffalo River," said Buffalo District Corps of Engineers Commander Lt. Col. Owen J. Beaudoin. "I am very pleased that my team at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been called upon to contribute their knowledge, skills and expertise to the Buffalo River Restoration Partnership."

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said, "The dredging and habitat restoration project for the Buffalo River is an important step to create a healthy and revitalized waterway that will provide recreational and economic benefits to communities in the region. Gov. Cuomo is committed to helping communities utilize their natural resources to improve their quality of life and attract businesses and jobs, and this project will further these goals."

In 1987, the Buffalo River was officially designated as a federal "Area of Concern" or AOC, one of 43 sites across Great Lakes. Most of the beneficial impairments to the Buffalo River are related to the toxic chemicals still present in the bottom sediments. The remedy includes dredging nearly 1 million cubic yards of sediment from the river. Nearly 400,000 cubic yards were dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2011. After surviving several threats in Congress to de-fund the Great Lakes Legacy Act, the Buffalo River restoration effort has been elevated as a top priority for the U.S. EPA.

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