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Complex project to reclaim Buffalo River after decades of neglect is taking root

The amazing environmental progress being made along the Buffalo River shoreline is an excellent example of how the concentration of resources can benefit nature.

The work should inspire funding for other cleanup efforts in the area that once seemed too big to tackle. With this latest progress report, the notion of a swimmable and fishable river no longer seems impossible.

The once-polluted Buffalo River has been undergoing a shoreline rehabilitation effort involving about 20 acres at seven sites, part of a larger restoration program following decades of industrial pollution and neglect.

On display are the first elements of a restoration project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Great Lakes Commission and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

Rescuing a dead river and its shoreline has been a slow and steady process. It is a type of infrastructure work that is largely without fanfare but will see animals and plants once again take their place along the river.

An article by News staff reporter T.J. Pignataro detailed how the $6.2 million project will restore life to the river from Buffalo Harbor to Old Bailey Woods, about 6 miles upstream.

Pignataro described the work near the new SolarCity plant on South Park Avenue, where the natural slope of the river has been restored and native plants have replaced invasive species. Rolls of biodegradable material known as “soil burritos” are anchoring the 1,500 feet of shoreline.

Other aspects of the rehabilitation are not as far along. Some are in the design phase, with construction possible later this year.

Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka cited strong local advocacy in getting us to this point. But the job will not be done when the project is completed. Continued work will be needed to maintain the new shoreline.

The ultimate success of the Buffalo River project is also important because it will show what can be accomplished with money and strong leadership.

That could help determine the future for other projects, including Scajaquada, Tonawanda and Cayuga creeks.

Clean water is a key element in Buffalo’s resurgence. The remarkable progress on the Buffalo River shows that it is possible to return such damaged areas back to health.