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House approves breakwater funding

Lake Ontario storms can whip up waves as high as 15 feet in Olcott Harbor, home to thousands of boaters during the summer season.

The danger to boaters moved a step closer to being removed Friday with House approval of a bill that would authorize up to $2 million to build a breakwater in the northern Niagara County harbor.

The Water Resources and Development Act also would provide $500,000 for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper to develop a restoration and conservation plan for the Niagara River.

Also is in the bill is a request for $250,000 for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study for a low-cost, clean-energy hydroelectric plant on the Niagara River.

The bill will go before the Senate next month, and, if approved, await the signature of President Bush.

"The passage of this legislation is a victory for all of Western New York," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, chairwoman of the House Rules Committee.

A breakwater has long been needed in Olcott Harbor, said James W. Kramer Sr., a former Newfane supervisor and town councilman for more than 20 years.

"We've been working on getting this built for years, even before I came on the council," Kramer said.

A stone breakwater -- about 600 feet long and embedded into the lake bottom a short distance from shore -- would keep the waves in the harbor down to about a foot and make it safer for boaters, Kramer said.

There has never been a breakwater in Olcott Harbor or Wilson Harbor, its popular boating neighbor to the west. The closest breakwater is at Oak Orchard, farther east in Orleans County.

The funding for more research on the Niagara River also is a crucial need, said Julie O'Neill, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

The organization, which has 500 members, would use the $500,000 to develop a long-range water management plan for the Niagara River, she said.

"Our greatest resource in Western New York is our water, but there is very little good data about the hydrology of the Niagara River," O'Neill said. "This project would pull together all the data so that 10 years from now we're not facing a crisis."

Riverkeeper staff would conduct the research, develop an inventory on the condition of the water and pass on the information to Niagara and Erie county governments so they know how best to deal with water quality issues, she said.

The water in Niagara River tributaries, such as Tonawanda Creek and the Buffalo River, is undrinkable, O'Neill said. Wastewater treatment plants aren't getting the job done and polluted water still finds it way into the river.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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