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Image courtesy of the Town of Grand Island
Image courtesy of the Town of Grand Island

Town of Grand Island adopts waterfront plan

Sat, May 25th 2024 11:25 am

By Karen Carr Keefe

Senior Contributing Writer

Grand Island has a new plan to protect, preserve and responsibly develop its Niagara River waterfront and shoreline.

The Town Board adopted its Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) at Monday’s meeting. The passage has a caveat though: The Town Board agreed to be open to suggested changes from the public as they are raised down the line.

 Resident Cathy Rayhill told the board that there had not been enough time for the public to study the LWRP document. She said she wasn’t able to find the plan online on the town’s official website.

The link needed to find that document, posted in seven sections, is:


Rayhill wanted the board to consider reopening and possibly changing aspects of the plan, based on public suggestions. Supervisor Peter Marston assured her that process would be in place and that the board’s passage of the LWRP wouldn’t preclude needed changes.

That potential for modification also was stressed by Chairman Jim Sharpe of the town’s Long Range Planning Committee, also known as the town’s Comprehensive Review Advisory Board.

Sharpe led the six-year effort to put together the document that guides the town’s waterfront plan. The same board also created the town’s master plan. The goal is to have the master plan and the LWRP match up with each other.

Sharpe said he’s proud of the LWRP document the group produced and believes it is thorough and sound.

“We definitely want them to read it and, yes, we want to accommodate the public where we can. But the other issue is, I think over a six-year period, and 12 people from all different aspects of Grand Island … debating every piece of it. I think it’s going to be hard-pressed for anybody to find something they’re going to have to argue about,” Sharpe said.

The town’s LWRP also must obtain approval from the state and federal governments.

Waterfront revitalization is a basic concern for Grand Island, whose entire perimeter is surrounded by water and whose geography holds ecotourism potential.

Sharpe, in an interview with the Dispatch, said the best aspects of the new plan, over the previous one, are local flood prevention measures and the addition of local projects.

“The most significant piece was the creeks,” he said. “We wanted every one of the creeks be part of the LWRP because they have a significant impact on the river. If the creeks are flowing and the channels are open, then we’re filtering water that will actually bring more clean water to the river, itself. But on Grand Island, we’re having a great deal of flooding, due to the fact that the channels of the creeks are starting to fill in.”

He said the channels have been blocked up by falling trees and sediment that has filled the channels.

“We can’t touch the creeks because they’re protected under the DEC (state Department of Environmental Conservation) and the (Army) Corps of Engineers.”

Sharpe said that, by adding the creeks to the LWRP, “they are now designated as a waterway within the federal and state boundary, and the headwaters are included. And therefore, it’s also subject to getting grants to actually have waterkeepers (such as the group, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper) come in and reestablish the creeks and get the channels back open again.”

He said doing such a project would greatly alleviate flooding that has recently plagued the Island.

“Otherwise, when you’re trying to alleviate flooding on Grand Island, you’ve got to start digging ditches, right?” Sharpe said. “But that isn’t a smart idea. The smarter idea is to get the creeks open and let the creeks do their natural process, and therefore bring them back to what they were in the 1950s and the ’60s and before that.”

Sharpe said that, when he and others were working on the town’s master plan, Grand Island farmers brought to his attention the best way to alleviate flooding is to ensure that creeks are flowing naturally. Farmers used to maintain the creeks to keep their fields from being flooded, but there is less farming being done on the Island now, Sharpe said.

The Grand Island creeks include: Spicer Creek, Woods Creek, Burnt Ship Creek, Gun Creek, Turtle Creek and Little and Big Six Mile creeks.

Sharpe also stressed the importance of the 25 projects highlighted in Chapter 4 of the LWRP that represent responsible waterfront development.

“The plan of 2006 did not have any projects in it. It basically talked about how you govern the shoreline. And there’s two factors that are involved in the shoreline. One is the federal boundary, which is 1,500 feet from our shoreline. The second one is 300 feet inland from the shoreline,” Sharpe said.

“Anything that happens within that 1,800 feet, the Town of Grand Island has a seat at the table to discuss what they’re going to do.”

He gave as examples a developer who may want to build a marina, or an individual or group that would take allowed measures to minimize shoreline erosion.

Sharpe also mentioned a key project in the LWRP document that involves the Niagara Sailing Club, which recently rebuilt its clubhouse after a devastating fire on March 20, 2021.

He said the suggested project asks “for riverkeepers to come in and rebuild the shoreline around the club and bring in natural species … and to get wave-action protection, as well.”

Sharpe said projects like this one could be eligible for grants to get the work done. Similarly, the town could seek funding to alleviate flooding by restoring the creeks to their natural free flow.

Another project already underway will reopen a path to go from a multipurpose path from the West River down to the Big Six Marina for bikers and pedestrians, Sharpe said.

He credited a large team of people – from town government, to advisory board members, to concerned community members – for their hard work in devising the updated LWRP over the past six years. He said the plan was put together not only through meetings, but also through excursions along the shoreline, in the state parks and local preserves.

“We walked every single parcel of Grand Island,” Sharpe said. “Walked all the shoreline and actually kayaked around the entire Island, biked around the Island to actually create this document.”

He said that, within the document planning, four parcels owned by the Town of Grand Island or the Land Conservancy were mapped as open space and formally zoned as such.

 The overall plan that resulted from their work adds to a federal and state program. Those two larger entities have jurisdiction over the waters that surround and run through Grand Island – the Niagara River and the creeks that flow to the river.

The town’s waterfront plan adds details following federal and state guidelines for waterfront protection, development and enhancement. The plan guides how the town administers the aspects of its own waterfront.

These include the shoreline, interior waters and their headwaters, parks and preserves that touch upon the waterfront.

“It’s great document in terms of outlining the roadmap for the town as far as its waterfront goes,” said the advisory board’s consultant, Justin Steinbach. He is planning project manager with CPL (Clark Patterson Lee). He worked on the document along with Wendy Salvati, WWS Planning.

Steinbach agreed with Sharpe that, “The biggest thing it does is it gives the town a seat at the table when it comes to making decisions” about the waterfront.

Steinbach gave an overview of the town’s eight-part waterfront plan in a presentation on May 16.

The first two parts of the plan identify the boundaries of the area the plan covers, and the assets and resources of the town, Steinbach said.

The center of the document deals with policies, proposed land use, projects and techniques for local implementation of the program, Steinbach said. It also includes mapping the area – floodplains, wetlands, identifying the types of soil present and outlining areas that are prone to flooding.

The plan also identifies the position of utilities, waterlines, sewer districts and transportation networks. It also reviews historic resources of the town.

The LWRP’s later section looks at the impact of state and federal actions within the plan, as well as the kind of outreach that was done to complete the document.

The local input includes identifying the creeks in the interior of the island and what additional grants can be sought to help administer the waterfront plan.

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