The conversion of the Martin Luther King Jr. wading pool into a fishing pond may come to an abrupt halt after a contentious meeting Thursday at the Buffalo Museum of Science.
Masten Council Member Byron W. Brown, a principal proponent of the project, said the special meeting was called largely at the request of a North Parade Street resident, Richard Cummings, who joined others in raising questions about safety and maintenance of the fishing pond. Cummings had gathered petitions from about 150 residents opposed to the project.
Despite attempts by Brown, other city officials and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy to address residents' concerns at the meeting, opponents insisted the project was undertaken with minimal community input and ought to be stopped.
While construction on the project was begun earlier this month, it remained unclear Thursday whether it will continue.
"We might ask to delay this and have more meetings and perhaps distribute some ballots and actually let people vote on the options," Brown said after Thursday's meeting.
The $1.4 million conversion of the wading pool is supposed to be one of the centerpieces of a multimillion-dollar reinvestment in the city's Olmsted parks. The five-acre wading pool, installed in the late 19th century, has fallen into disuse over the last three decades.
Several residents have requested that the wading pool be restored. However, current state Health Department codes and state historic preservation rules prohibit such a restoration.
In addition, Brown said, high costs prevented renovation of the wading pool. Meeting current state sanitary and safety standards would require a massive filtration system costing more than $2.6 million, a surrounding 4-foot fence and 100 lifeguards at the pool, he said.
Brown also insisted that the community had been involved in the planning of the fishing pond over the past decade, through community workshops, block club meetings and other forums. He noted that discussions date back to his predecessor, David Collins.
Collins, who attended the meeting, acknowledged that fact but condemned the plan.
"Yes, David Collins proposed initially that we should have an urban fishing hole in the park, but after confronting much opposition to the idea, Dave Collins came to his senses and abandoned the idea," Collins said.
Council Member at Large Beverly A. Gray also took swipes at the project even though Brown and two other lawmakers later told residents that the project received unanimous support from the Council.
"There are some other options on the table," Gray said. "I'm not in agreement with this particular project."
She suggested that funds were available to undertake a massive restoration of the wading pond to meet state requirements if that is what citizens wanted.
"Let's hold tight to this and make the mayor spend the money," Gray said.
Cummings said he recalled that community reaction to the idea of a fishing pond was raised and rejected nearly a decade ago, so he was dumbfounded to see construction crews tearing into concrete at the wading pond across from his house nearly two weeks ago.
As residents poured into the Science Museum Thursday, he and other opponents distributed fliers alleging the pond would not be well maintained and would breed mosquitoes and odors from dead fish, posing a safety hazard for children who frequent the park. However, most galling to opponents is their claim that the pond was being constructed despite the wishes of residents in communities surrounding the park.
"I'm hoping Byron comes to his senses and sides with the community. We do not want the fish pond. From there, we're willing to talk," Cummings said.
Brown said the fishing pond is patterned on similar catch-and-release fishing programs at the northern end of Central Park in Harlem in New York City and at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. The successes of those projects could be duplicated locally, he said.
"Even though we have a lot of wonderful young people in our community, some of them have lost respect for the environment," Brown said. "The fishing pond, besides providing an interactive activity for our young people in the community and other residents around the city, would help teach children to respect and enjoy nature."