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Higgins working to free up river site Coast Guard may cede 20 acres on waterfront

U.S. Coast Guard officials and Rep. Brian M. Higgins are talking about the government's turning over 20 acres of the agency's Buffalo station for a waterfront park.

Home to Buffalo's historic lighthouse, the base now contains 30 acres. The tract is at the mouth of the Buffalo River, across from the Gorski Marina.

"The agreement with the Coast Guard to look at a proposal to open up 20 acres of green space along the water's edge is significant and exciting," Higgins said.

The Buffalo Democrat proposed release of the land when he met recently with Rear Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commander of the 9th Coast Guard District.

"We have been looking at acquiring Coast Guard property if it became available," said Anthony H. Gioia, chairman of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.

The service has been asked by the Bush administration to consider consolidating its bases, Coast Guard spokesman Jeff Hall said. Under discussion is a proposal to shrink the size of the base in Buffalo to 10 acres.

The plan would not "sacrifice any of the homeland security, search and rescue, navigational and other services the Coast Guard provides to Buffalo and other Lake Erie communities," Higgins said.

"This development would be most welcome. A terrific opportunity to expand the scope" of the outer harbor project, Gioia said.

If the land is ceded, it could become the first tract controlled by Gioia's non-for-profit corporation.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has not released rights on its waterfront land to the corporation despite appeals by federal and state legislators.

Higgins wants to increase public access to the lighthouse. Built in 1833, the year after the city was incorporated, the lighthouse is the oldest structure on the Buffalo waterfront.

Administratively, the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Funding for the service is provided by the House Transportation Committee, of which Higgins is a member. His meeting with Papp was arranged by the Coast Guard's congressional liaison office.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com