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Clean the river; Senate needs to protect funding for Buffalo River dredging project

An effort to clean up and erase decades of neglect and abuse of our natural resources is worth celebrating. But it's important to keep an eye on the federal fiscal ball that keeps these efforts moving in the right direction.

A century's worth of toxic waste is set to be dredged out of the Buffalo River over the next couple of years as part of a larger $50 million cleanup effort to turn a 6.2-mile industrial wasteland into a public space.

This work represents the largest cleanup effort in the history of the Great Lakes with funding from federal, private and nonprofit sources. It will be completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

However, the project might be on the chopping block if budget cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) force restoration projects in the Great Lakes to compete for limited funds.

Conservative opposition in Washington threatens to cut funding to the GLRI and the Great Lakes Legacy Act by up to $50 million from fiscal year 2011 levels, a full $100 million below what President Obama's budget stipulates, according to Great Lakes restoration advocates.

Studies have shown that for every dollar that goes into Great Lakes restoration, there are $2 of economic benefit.

The House passed the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act, which would reduce the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate national waterways and, according to sources, could make funding the Buffalo River dredging more difficult to procure. Our local representatives voted against this measure. The Senate should vote no.

The Buffalo River Restoration Partnership has worked for more than five years and has spent more than $6 million to complete chemical analysis, feasibility studies and remedial designs prior to the dredging. The work itself would do much to tie a system of parks and public places together.

The EPA has listed the Buffalo River as an area of concern as a result of fish and plant-life health degradation, much of it caused by years of industrial and municipal pollution in the river. As advocates point out, this dredging benefits commercial navigation and ongoing ecological restoration of the watershed.

Much work and effort have been put forth by the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper in funding and organizing a coalition of partners in cleanup efforts.

The first phase of the project, expected to be completed by November, involves removing contaminated sediment and placing it at a secure location in Buffalo's outer harbor, near the abandoned Bethlehem Steel plant, where there's hope that one day that area can be used as a public green space. That's what has already happened in Cleveland.

Benefits from the Buffalo River dredging project promise to be wide ranging. This ongoing effort needs support.

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