By John R. Finster
The primary Outer Harbor development goal is to increase public access to the water. The missing piece is a place to swim that is safe – a public beach.
Gallagher Beach was proposed for a public beach at the Buffalo Harbor State Park. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation completed a thorough beach sanitary survey as required by the state Health Department to site a new public beach. The unsafe conditions were documented, specifically the high levels of bacterial contamination that persisted throughout the summer and would put at risk the health of swimmers.
To the credit of parks, the proposal for a public beach at Gallagher Beach has been abandoned.
Now let’s look at an alternative that has not been explored. Extend your vision and the artificial boundary of the Outer Harbor development project south, beyond the City of Buffalo, to incorporate the Lake Erie waterfront of Lackawanna and Hamburg. This would expand the Outer Harbor development to a truly regional project and use the existing Woodlawn Beach State Park as the recreational anchor of the development. This is less than 2 miles to the south.
Woodlawn Beach is a very successful operation managed by the Town of Hamburg under a lease with the state. Woodlawn Beach is a wide beach with very fine sand that attracts 60 percent of the bathers using the five public beaches along Lake Erie in Erie County. There are numerous days that Woodlawn Beach is closed because of bacterial contamination, but forecasts using a predictive model have proved fairly accurate for predicting unsatisfactory water quality conditions that justify the pre-emptive beach closures.
Woodlawn Beach has well-designed support facilities – restrooms, changing rooms with lockers and showers, and adequate parking that could be enlarged. The existing NFTA bus service allows access to the beach for citizens of Buffalo and Lackawanna without cars. Further, the existing bikeway system could be extended south from the Buffalo city line through Lackawanna along Route 5 to access Woodlawn Beach.
The public funds from the state parks department and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which were available for Gallagher Beach, can leverage the capital investments already made at Woodlawn Beach. This would include the cost of the capital improvements including a swimming pool and the relocation and expansion of parking lots and other facilities.
The Town of Hamburg should continue to operate the beach and the other agencies should also share operational costs with Hamburg.
John R. Finster is a retired Erie County public engineer and a former consultant and project manager for the Erie County Department of Health Beach Program.