By Margaret Wooster
Any major plan or project proposed for the Outer Harbor must account for extreme weather events.
Lake surges, high winds, squall lines and flooding were recently discussed in a local government training workshop, Preparing for Extreme Weather through Land Use Planning, presented by Erie County, New York State Sea Grant and the state departments of Environmental Conservation and State.
The take-home was this: We need to protect as much natural space as possible between the use and the risk. Erie County is ranked third-highest of all 62 counties in the state for flooding, largely because of its position at the east end of Lake Erie, right smack in the fetch of prevailing winds and every form of precipitation.
These forces are increased by the overall shallowness of Lake Erie, which can cause the lake itself to pile up at our end by several feet during extreme storm events. The result is flooding, road closures and property damage that rises with the amount of development in the flood plain. The flood plains themselves need to be remapped to account for the extreme weather events now playing.
Climate-smart planning tools all begin with questions aimed at analyzing how protective a community’s current coastal land use plans are. Does your coastal area have: A master plan? An evacuation plan? A disaster recovery plan? A communication plan? A shoreline restoration plan?
In the case of the Outer Harbor, the answer to all of these questions is “No.” Citizens and groups like the Outer Harbor Coalition are left to fight one ill-conceived proposal at a time – whether it’s a 23-story residential glass tower at the edge of the lake in the 100-year flood plain, or a costly habitat restoration project ill-suited to take the pounding of extreme lake-effect weather.
A climate-smart plan for Buffalo’s Lake Erie coast would promote:
• Implementation of a local waterfront revitalization plan (20 years overdue!) that would bring resources to address both the ecological opportunities and risks in Buffalo’s coastal zone.
• Uses that protect natural buffering qualities and also strengthen significant habitats, including the Small Boat Harbor and Tifft and Times Beach Nature Preserves.
• Improvements like native plantings for the many animal species at risk – from muskellunge to monarchs – that rely on increasingly rare Great Lakes shoreline habitats.
• Recognition that the Outer Harbor is not just the 600-acre strip of land currently owned by a state development agency, but, as mapped in our draft plan, a 3,000-acre Buffalo River-Lake Erie coastal ecosystem extending from the outer breakwalls inland to Tifft Nature Preserve and from the Buffalo River south to Smokes Creek Shoals.
Buffalo’s Lake Erie coast hosts the Emerald Channel (our water supply), and the emerald shiner (the little minnow that supports so many of our bird and fish species). It is our Emerald Coast and it is, literally, our lifeline.
Margaret Wooster, of Buffalo, is the author of “Living Waters: Restoring the Rivers of the Lower Great Lakes” and a member of the Our Outer Harbor coalition.