Basswoods, sycamores, willows and shrubs were among the initial 2,000 native and naturalized plants installed as part of the shoreline restoration of a former steel manufacturing brownfield along the Buffalo River in South Buffalo.
The project, part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, received nearly $1 million granted to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Forest Service to rehabilitate an area where Donner Hanna Coke and Republic Steel once operated.
“In 1967, the federal government declared this river dead. But today you can see this river is very much alive, and it is thriving,” Jill Jedlicka, Riverkeeper’s executive director, said during a news conference at the site Monday. “We are starting a new chapter in the history of the Buffalo River.”
“We are not only cleaning up the river, we’re cleaning up the lands along the river to transform the Buffalo River from an old, industrial, polluted waterway where there was industrial discharge directly into the river, to a place with exciting new opportunities,” said Rep. Brian Higgins. “This is the most recent iteration of the transformation that’s occurring on the Buffalo waterfront on both the inner and outer harbor.”
Abby Snyder, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, noted that the agency managed the remediation of the site for nearly 10 years, including contaminated soil and underground storage tanks, and said that she looked forward to it becoming accessible to the public.
There is currently no public access from the land or water, but Jedlicka said the plan is to eventually provide access from South Park Avenue for canoers or kayakers and others. Ownership issues would also have to be sorted out among the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and English Pork Pie, which owns some of the land along South Park Avenue near the river.
More than 1,200 cubic yards of debris was cleared to make room for 2,800 linear feet of enhanced shoreline. Riverkeeper project manager Matthew Mattison said up to 750 additional plantings are expected in the near future.