“Skunkgate,” they’re calling it.
The summer was a stinky one for residents of the Old First Ward because of the city’s practice of gathering all of the trapped skunks around Buffalo and shooting them at a shuttered police station on Louisiana Street.
“The days that they shoot them, it’s the most intense, nauseating smell,” said Mackinaw Street resident Sara Heidinger, who can smell the skunk odor from her second-floor apartment two short blocks away.
Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak confirmed Monday that for the last six months, the city has been taking skunks that have been humanely trapped by the department to the old police station and shooting them.
Laura Kelly, director of the Old First Ward Community Association, dubbed the events of the last few months “Skunkgate,” and like Heidinger, she said the answers she’s been getting have been contradictory.
“This could have been less of a community scandal if the answers were more forthcoming from the city,” Kelly said. “We’ve definitely been given the runaround.”
Earlier this summer, Heidinger thought there was a skunk in an alley near her house. It took a while for her to realize the skunk odor was because the city was killing skunks at the end of her street.
Heidinger noticed that the city had put up a concrete barrier near the old police station, next to Conway Park, to block from public view what is going on there. She has also seen small body bags and a freezer on the side of the building, where the skunks’ bodies are stored until they can be incinerated at the SPCA.
She’s been calling the city about the smell since mid-August, and the answers she received changed. First she was told the city wasn’t killing them there, then that they were killing only a fraction of the trapped skunks that arrived there, she said.
Heidinger and Fillmore Common Council Member David A. Franczyk’s office were told the city was administering a lethal injection. But Stepniak on Monday said that using an injection can be dangerous and that the only method the city was using was guns.
The city’s methods have been approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Stepniak said.
Shooting skunks with a gun is indeed a humane way to euthanize them, said Beverly Jones, assistant administrator of wildlife services at the SPCA Serving Erie County. The most humane way to kill the skunks would be through chemical injection, but not every agency has access to that, Jones said.
The city realizes that the area isn’t suitable for euthanizing skunks because of neighborhood concerns and a prevailing wind in the area, Stepniak said. He has three new locations in mind and said that the operation should be moved to a more remote site in the next few weeks. He declined to identify the other potential sites.
The city responds to reports of skunks, which come in through the city’s 311 system, and traps them. They are taken alive to the old police precinct.
Prior to using the Old First Ward site, the city was euthanizing skunks at a location off Broadway but had to move to a more remote site, Stepniak said.
Heidinger said she knows the city has to deal with skunks and agrees they are a nuisance, but she wants the operation moved to a place where people can’t smell it from their homes.
At one point, Heidinger spoke with a public works employee – not Stepniak – who asked snidely if she had any better ideas for where the city should take the skunks. Stepniak agreed this was an improper response.
Kelly suspects the city picked the old Precinct 7 building because it seems off the beaten path. But there is a lot of activity in the neighborhood, and people live there, she said.
“It does waft right down the road,” she said.
The smell was definitely in the air Monday on Louisiana Street.
“We don’t want the Old First Ward stunk up by skunks,” Franczyk said. “It should go away from where there are people and businesses.”