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Buffalo River may open to swimmers in 5 years

Thanks to various remediation efforts, five years from now people should be able to swim in the Buffalo River and eat fish from it.

That was the prediction from the Army Corps of Engineers at Monday's Buffalo River Summit sponsored by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

About 90 people attended the event at Templeton Landing. More than a dozen speakers from agencies, community groups and businesses shared updates on a variety of revitalization efforts under way throughout the Buffalo River corridor.

"The Buffalo River has become a national success story in its remarkable recovery since being declared dead in 1965," said Jill Jedlicka, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper director of ecological programs. "The recovery includes environmental, recreational and economic revitalization efforts that are being implemented by a variety of community groups and agencies."

Last summer was the start of a multiyear environmental dredging project conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, in partnership with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state Department of Environmental Conservation, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and Honeywell.

Col. Stephen H. Bales, district commander of the corps, said he is confident the combination of habitat restoration and efforts to clear out the contaminants means the Buffalo River will be off the EPA's list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern in three to five years.

"We clear out the toxic materials, Mother Nature will do the rest and clear out what's left there and replenish the river," Bales said.

An Area of Concern is defined by the EPA as a location -- like the lower 6.2 miles of the Buffalo River -- that has experienced environmental degradation, according to its website.

Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the City of Buffalo's Office of Strategic Planning, talked about the proposed Green Code, a total revamping of the city's zoning ordinances that began two years ago on Earth Day.

The work involves rewriting a land-use plan that was written in 1977 and a zoning code that goes back to 1951, Mehaffy said.

Over the last year, city officials have had a series of neighborhood meetings on the Green Code. The next one will be in early June.

At the end of June, officials will talk with state officials about Brownfield Opportunity Areas, which encompass the Buffalo River, Buffalo outer harbor and Tonawanda Street corridor, Mehaffy said. A goal of the meeting is to discuss how to direct state dollars to build along the city's water assests, he said.

Once completed, the Green Code will result in a more streamlined, user-friendly regulatory framework for development in Buffalo.

"After 2012, we should have a great foundation to implement this work," he said.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, was the keynote speaker.

Immediately after the morning session, a guided tour of the lower Buffalo River was scheduled aboard the Miss Buffalo II to show participants recently completed public access and revitalization projects as well as areas identified for future restoration.