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Test to use river’s flow to block invasive species from Unity Island

A first-of-its-kind project will test to see if naturally flowing water can help keep invasive species from Buffalo’s Unity Island.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started cutting out invasive reeds and other species from parts of the island Wednesday as part of a $1.4 million demonstration project designed to manage invasive species and restore the island habitat.

If successful, Corps officials hope to undertake similar work in other coastal wetlands around the Great Lakes.

“Unity Island is a treasure in Western New York,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. “As we continue to develop the waterfront, it is vital that we protect our greatest resource – Lake Erie – from invasive species and ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy this beautiful spot for years to come.”

Besides mechanical and chemical removal of invasive plants, native species will be planted both in submerged and out-of-water areas there. Wetland buffer areas will be expanded. Areas promoting fish proliferation will be added. And, a pump station will be constructed to circulate water through pond areas on Unity Island.

The innovative water circulation design should improve the hydrology around Unity Island and, if successful, will also keep invasive plant species at bay, officials said.

Work is being done by federal contractor, Tidewater Inc. of Maryland.

“It’s a study to see if we can use the hydrologic control – water movement – to control invasive species,” said Andrew A. Kornacki, Corps’ spokesman.

Mechanical removal of species including the common reed, mugwort, purple loosestrife, tree of heaven, common buckthorn and Eurasian watermilfoil will continue at Unity Island this week.

Work will then resume in the spring to finish the balance of the project, Kornacki said.

The invasive species control work will then be monitored for three years, according to officials.

“The proposed invasive species removal and establishment of native shoreline plantings will not only create habitat for fish and birds,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown, “but will also allow for better flow of water through the system.”

The demonstration project, which is being coordinated by the city of Buffalo, Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center and its Buffalo District, will also provide the Corps a head-start on its next endeavor at Unity Island: the creation of a five-acre wetland habitat that will use dredged materials to naturally reconnect areas there to the nearby Niagara River. That project could be completed by late 2017.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com