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Forum rallies support for major effort to give Scajaquada Creek a clean future

With the realization that we must act to correct environmental wrongs committed over decades, it was heartening to see that a recent public forum to rally support to “Save Our Scajaquada Creek” attracted a large audience that shared the vision.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which for years has been a driving force in the Buffalo River cleanup effort, has turned its sights to badly contaminated Scajaquada Creek. The forum at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery last week presented the promise of much-needed renewal.

For years the creek was treated as a dumping ground for sewage and other waste. A 4-mile stretch was paved over in the interest of commercialization and essentially forgotten. The bill for such neglect – and it wasn’t unusual for its time – is coming due. What we now recognize as reckless decisions have damaged the environment and resulted in health problems for those living in communities where the air is bad and the water is unsuitable to drink or fish.

The public forum unveiled key new developments toward restoration of the creek, including word that it and three other tributaries to the Niagara River have been added to the corridor’s federal “area of concern.” That makes cleanup efforts eligible to tap into a pool of federal funds.

Preliminary designs were unveiled for an Army Corps of Engineers project that would improve the creek’s habitat and water quality on the west end of Forest Lawn near the Delaware Avenue S-curves.

Jill S. Jedlicka, executive director of Riverkeeper, announced that $3 million in funding may be available to pay for dredging projects along a section of the creek between Elmwood Avenue and Main Street.

This is all good news for a waterway fouled by sewage dating back to the 1880s. Much of it comes from Cheektowaga, where millions of gallons of sewage overflows into the creek each year, often because homeowners have illegally tied downspouts and sump pumps into the sanitary sewer system, overwhelming the system when it rains. Millions more gallons are added in Buffalo in overflows from the Buffalo Sewer Authority.

This wholly mistreated body of water has hosted a festering pool of carcinogens and PCBs that a longtime Department of Environmental Conservation engineer now working for a Buffalo law firm described as extremely unsafe because of their tendency to remain in the environment without degrading.

Like the ongoing cleanup of the Buffalo River, Scajaquada Creek presents a monumental challenge. This necessary work has, at last, begun. The forum, by raising awareness of the problem, is one small milepost on a long road.