NORTH TONAWANDA – The municipal parking lot behind the Webster Street commercial strip doesn’t look like much.
It has blacktop and bright yellow lines, like any other lot in town. But this ocean of pavement two blocks from Tonawanda Creek needed a savior.
Meanwhile, Nicholas Kaszynski also had a problem. The 16-year-old wants to become an Eagle Scout, and he needed a service project.
Stimulus money of $250,000 was used on the parking lot in 2010, but in the last four years, the green infrastructure had become 90 percent ineffective, as rain gardens meant to clean stormwater before it reached the canal became choked with invasive plants.
“The plants you want in there were being overgrown and killed off by that,” Kaszynski said. “You get rid of that and you can put the stuff you want back in.”
So on Saturday, after three months of obtaining sign-offs from the North Tonawanda Common Council and the mayor, Kaszynski and 34 friends, armed with shovels and wheelbarrows, worked in the rain to dig up weeds and other plants.
The operation took two and a half hours.
To finish the project, Kaszynski will return in the spring and add plants that will soak up nutrients from the rain, which would become contaminants in the canal if left untreated.
He learned a lot about ecology and sustainability in preparation for the project, and hopes to study engineering in college.
Four years ago, the pitch of the parking lot’s surface was engineered so that rain would drain into rain gardens, or bioswales, in the middle of the parking lot, and on the edge between the parking lot and the sidewalk.
New islands of soil, plants and trees were intended to absorb the water that drains into them.
Dave Conti, who is a water treatment plant operator for the city, met Kaszynski through a mutual friend and explained the project to him.
“You want to pull as much of the stormwater into these rain gardens so that you don’t overwhelm your wastewater plant,” Conti said. The rain gardens accomplish what the wastewater plant does without manpower, chemicals or electricity, he added.
Conti helped out on Saturday, as well as fellow scouts from Troop 104 out of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Kenmore.
Assistant Scoutmaster Peter Stuhlmiller said Kaszynski showed leadership by explaining the significance of the project.
“They recognize that we’re not just weeding, we’re doing something for the watershed,” Stuhlmiller said.