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As vandalism goes, the timing could not have been worse.

Nine large saplings planted this year at a Buffalo River habitat restoration and public access site were chopped down overnight -- just before a delegation from the National Association of Counties, which is considering highlighting the work as a national pilot program, is scheduled to visit Erie County and hours before Mayor Masiello was to hold an environmental news conference at the site.

"This is disgusting," an angered mayor said as he surveyed the damage before the news conference on the Bailey Avenue peninsula, a fishing site where Cazenovia Creek joins the Buffalo River. "It's a total lack of respect, for the environment and for our community."

"I'm sick and tired of the thugs that could do this," he added. "There's a lot of sickness out there -- the public has to support this commitment (to the river), it's for future generations -- and parents have to take charge of their teen-agers."

Michael Raab, the county's deputy environmental commissioner, said damage amounts to "thousands of dollars" and follows vandalism at the two other sites.

"It's disheartening," the audibly upset official said. "If there's someone who doesn't appreciate it, just leave it alone."

The Buffalo River Habitat Restoration Project, a cooperative effort led by the county, seeks to develop a series of small parks along the river. Buffalo provided the land, and other governments and agencies have supported the effort.

Neighborhood support also has been strong. Recent plant destruction and other vandalism in the park at the foot of Smith Street was greeted with dismay by community groups there, who plan to join the county in cleanup efforts.

Reaction to the previously reported vandalism at that site, Raab said, has come from as far away as Costa Rica.

Raab said the third pilot site, a canoe launch area along Ohio Street between the Ohio and Michigan Avenue bridges, also has been defaced.

Graffiti, including a swastika, has been spray-painted on a concrete pad installed to help boaters launch their kayaks and canoes.

Fillmore District Council Member David A. Franczyk said he is investigating the Ohio Street vandalism. The county-led project recently completed an overlook and a handicapped-access trail to the water's edge at the site, but no damage has been reported to those efforts.

Masiello said city police launched their investigation of the Bailey Avenue crime last night.

The vandalism at the Bailey Avenue site might be the most expensive so far.

"I don't have any money to fix it," Raab said. "I'm running out of resources."

Raab said National Association of Counties officials were to arrive today to look at the restoration effort and related activities.

"It's embarrassing, but it's not the end of the world," he added.

Masiello, meanwhile, reported on his administration's efforts at environmental reclamation.

"When we came to office, not only was the city's government a mess, so was Buffalo's environment," he said at his news conference.

Thanks to what he called a philosophy of civic environmentalism, average Buffalo citizens have been encouraged over the last four years to help change that situation. Better coordination between the various city, county, state and federal environmental agency also has reaped benefits for the city, Masiello added.

"Today, Buffalo has its first, Council-enacted environmental plan," he said. "We've generated over $200 million in public and private investment -- creating or retaining over 4,000 jobs -- by implementing Buffalo's first brownfields redevelopment action agenda."

Masiello dismissed suggestions that his future environmental agenda might be imperiled because it lacks a way to finance environmental cleanups and depends heavily on funding by higher branches of government.

"the City of Buffalo, more than any other region of the state, was a champion of the Environmental Bond Act," Masiello said.

As a result, Gov. Pataki has been generous with the city in providing fund its sought under the act.

"To make a difference, we have to have federal, state and county government assistance," Masiello said.

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