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New summer home for ice boom to provide space for riverfront park

You won't have to sneak around a fence and climb over a wall and debris to get down to the Buffalo River for much longer.

A 1.3-acre park to be developed at Hamburg and South streets stands to become the first major access to the river when completed in 2011.

"Hopefully, this is just the beginning," said Peg Overdorf, executive director of the Valley Community Association.

The park will be developed by the New York Power Authority when it installs a summer storage area for the Niagara River ice boom on part of the 10.3-acre parcel it bought from Killian Bulk Transport for $1.025 million.

The purchase of the riverfront property at 41 Hamburg St. allows the authority to fulfill the commitment it made when renewing its federal license to move the storage area from a 14-acre site off Fuhrmann Boulevard on the outer harbor.

The authority then will transfer those 14 acres to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. for development.

Richard M. Kessel, president and chief executive officer of the Power Authority, described the relocation as a "green-green" project.

"This is a win from every perspective," he said at a groundbreaking ceremony Friday afternoon in the Old First Ward.

The 1.7-mile-long ice boom is expected to be stored at the new location next spring, after its removal from the source of the Niagara River.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, praised the collaboration of local, state and federal officials with community members to move the ice boom and establish the park.

"We are here because of the water," he said, adding that the Old First Ward is often a forgotten area, with its homes built next to heavy industrial sites.

Assemblyman Mark J.F. Schroeder, D-Buffalo, said that when he heard the Power Authority was looking for a new home for the ice boom in the Old First Ward, he was determined the neighborhood should get something significant in return.

"One-hundred-plus years ago, it was a common place for First Warders to come and have access to the river," he said of the site of the new park. "The past 50 years have not been kind to this part of the neighborhood."

Once the park is built, Overdorf said, the Power Authority, which will continue to own it, will reimburse the Valley Community Association for maintaining it.

Next week, the Power Authority board is expected to approve a $5.9 million contract with UCC Constructors of West Seneca to develop the parcel.

The park will include a boat launch and boathouse, boardwalk with promenade, park benches, picnic tables and "thickly planted trees." A 12-foot-high decorative wall will separate the park from the ice boom.

The boom is strung across the river, generally from December to April, to prevent chunks of ice from damaging downstream hydropower water intakes.

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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