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Waterkeeper holds open house in North Tonawanda

Fri, Feb 21st 2020 07:00 am
Pictured is an area off Sweeney Street where the Living Shoreline project will take place.
Pictured is an area off Sweeney Street where the Living Shoreline project will take place.

By Benjamin Joe

Tribune Editor

Last week, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper held an open house at North Tonawanda’s City Hall for those interested in learning more about the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens Living Shoreline project.

At the open house were design sketches of the area around North Tonawanda’s Botanical Gardens on Sweeney Street prepared by Wendel, an architecture and engineering firm, and Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.

“The funding comes through Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, who is managing the grant, but we’re partnering with the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens organization,” said Emily Root, ecological director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. “We hired an engineering firm to do the design, Wendel.”

In November of 2018, Root presented the project to the Greenway Ecological Standing Committee. The GESC reviews applicants’ projects for their consistency with the Niagara River Greenway Plan and allocates funds from the Greenway Ecological Fund, which in turn is funded by the New York Power Authority with $1 million annually. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper was approved for $340,000.

“We are about 80% grant funded,” Root said, speaking of the Waterkeeper organization. “We really rely on the grants to do the work that we do. We have a team of grant writers and I’m one of them. Sometimes we’ll get multiple grants for a project, like for example the project on Cayuga Creek, we have four grants funding that. But for smaller projects like this one, we typically just have one grant.”

The project has budgeted $250,000 in contractual funds to cover design, construction and technical services like soil testing, surveying and engineering. Wendel’s design development services have been priced at $44,000 while the anticipated construction expenses are $170,000.

“I am in landscape architecture, so I do a lot of the design work for Living Shorelines program,” said Erica Grohol, senior designer and planner of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. “I’m working with Wendel on this one. Waterkeeper did the concept design and then we hired Wendel and they are doing all of the construction document development, and they’re going to administer that with a construction consultant.”

Grohol gave Ellicott Creek as an example of a completed Living Shorelines project that took the same approach as what is now being designed for North Tonawanda.

“We worked with the same approach where we restore the shoreline and regrade it. There’s a lot of erosion, invasive species, the phragmites that is spreading,” she said. “Phragmites is this tall, light-colored grass that has a feathery top. … It creates this impenetrable barrier from any other kind of plant and it doesn’t support any of the species.”

“In that project there we graded, similar to this, to the coves that you’ll see. We graded back to the shoreline to create a more natural slope,” Grohol said.

David Kenyon, a landscape architect of Wendel, also commented on the project.

“This was a parking lot, so it’s going to be restored as lawn,” he began, pointing to different parts of one of the designs. “What you’re not seeing is the contours, but these are going to be berms. The material we pull out over here next to the canal, we’re going to pull up onto the upland area.”

Kenyon said as the canal water level comes up over the shore, it’ll gently flood the area around the berms, making a kind of islands out of them, giving a place for water to go.

“We’re going to harvest the rock that’s along the existing shore and bring it back up to line the shoreline here,” Kenyon said. “The only thing we’re going to be bringing in is seed and plants. The City of North Tonawanda Parks Department is going to donate some trees that they’re taking down – they’re taking down ash trees – they’re going to harvest some of them and we’re going to bury them in the slope. That creates habitat and at the same time helps dissipate wave action from the boats coming in. …

Other attendees of the open house were Eric Zadzilka and Mayor Arthur Pappas.

“All I know is they’re working hard at this and it could be great for that shoreline and it just puts a whole new look – a whole new feel – and it goes with that Botanical Gardens, so well, because up until the past couple years, it was really in disrepair,” Pappas said. “At one time it was very nice. They had Christmas – the whole place was lit up – they had student artwork. … Over the years it was just let go. I have a feeling it was budgetary reasons, but these volunteer people have really worked these past couple years to bring it back, and they’ve done amazing work.”

“We’re at 50% of the design so this was the perfect time to share it with the public to get their feedback so we can incorporate that,” Root said.

“It’s a feel-good conversation,” Grohol added. “Especially in the case of this project, the funding is coming from that NYPA relicensing, so it’s like this designated funding source. People don’t necessarily feel like it’s being taken from them in any way. It’s really nice to feel like this is entirely giving back to the community.”

Construction on the project may start as early as spring, though the planting of natural species may have to wait till September.

More information can be found at www.bnwaterkeeper.org.

A concept design by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper on the Living Shoreline project.

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