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Creative solution for Cotter Ship needs repairs and since city can't afford them, donations way to go

Excitement over the waterfront's future ought not to blind Western New Yorkers to the treasures it already holds, and one of them needs help now. Fortunately, its caretakers have found a creative way to seek that help.

The Buffalo fireboat Edward M. Cotter is a National Historic Landmark, and the oldest active fireboat in the world. Built in 1900, it rarely fights fires in a harbor with far less heavy-duty industry than it once had, but the old red fireboat still does substantial icebreaking duty during Buffalo winters and its water-cannon salutes are an indispensable ceremonial part of all major festivities on the now largely recreational waterfront.

It is, in short, a treasure -- but a tarnishing one, in a challenging environment. Last "modernized" in 1953, with an engine refit that preserved its historic external look, the Cotter needs a complete evaluation and about $250,000 worth of hull plates, rebuilt decks and repairs to its signature twin steam-engine smokestacks.

That responsibility rests with Buffalo, which owns and runs the Cotter. But the city's fiscal crisis means fireboat repairs can't be a priority, and Erie County and New York state also have cash problems. So Capt. Mike Higgins and the crew hope the private sector will help. They established a Friends of the Cotter Support Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, to accept individual and company tax-deductible donations (the foundation's at 712 Main St., Buffalo NY 14202).

It's a properly creative solution to a community problem, one that asks those who know and appreciate the historic fireboat's evolving role in this waterfront city to help voluntarily. While Buffalo still should be a proper steward of this landmark, this is a chance for those who love this region and its treasures to pick up the slack until City Hall can afford that moral mandate once again.

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