For longer than anyone wants to think about, Cheektowaga’s sanitary system has been spilling millions of gallons of sewage and pollution into Scajaquada Creek and other waterways. It’s been an ongoing and unmitigated environmental disaster.
Now there is funding to take care of the problem, thanks to a $5 million grant as part of a $20 million effort to repair an aging wastewater infrastructure. This is the $5 million Water Infrastructure Improvement Act grant in action. It will be accompanied by $15 million in interest-free state loans. The money will help to stop the pollution at its source and to remediate precious areas that have been contaminated.
This work started at the grass-roots level. Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper’s vision, cost-share agreements and leadership have been invaluable. Working alongside have been elected officials such as State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who announced the state grant. As Kennedy said, the funds “will enable the Town of Cheektowaga to do its part in protecting waterways.”
The town is under a state and federal consent order to cut overflows of sewage into area waterways, a particular problem when it rains or during heavy runoff of melting snow. As News staff reporter T.J. Pignataro wrote, the town must modernize its operations to “reduce the pollution overflowing into creeks and streams.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also instructed the town to quickly address infrastructure in the form of cracked pipes or illegally connected downspouts and sump pumps. Kennedy gets credit for facilitating talks between the town and the DEC on how best to address the work. A standoff between the parties threatened to delay the start of work.
Property owners have a big role to play in this effort, especially those who have illegally tied into the town’s sanitary system from downspouts, sump pumps and yard drainage systems.
Runoff from Cheektowaga affects all areas, with Scajaquada Creek in Buffalo and Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park prominent among them. As Pignataro’s article explains, the waterway was buried at Pine Ridge Road in Cheektowaga in the 1920s and it “emerges from its 4-mile underground section into Forest Lawn and feeds into Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park.”
The Army Corps of Engineers, a contract partner of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, is proceeding on a $2 million project to clean up Forest Lawn’s waterway. The work is expected to take two to three years.
Restoration and design work in Forest Lawn is the result of three-plus years of a cost-share partnership between Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, the Army Corps of Engineers and Forest Lawn Heritage Foundation. That work was supported through the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the New York State Dormitory Authority and local-private funds from the community.
The implementation phase that will begin this fall is being orchestrated by the Buffalo Sewer Authority for the first $1.8 million through New York State Environmental Facilities Funding. This will include the dredging, and a significant portion of the floodplain and wetland restoration components, as well as restorations below Forest Lawn into Delaware Park.
Another $260,000 in wetland restoration is being implemented by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and Ducks Unlimited through funding from the Greenway Ecological Standing Committee. Finally, there are many parts identified as part of the first design partnership that still require funding for which Forest Lawn and Riverkeeper are actively fundraising.
The effort is another sign of hope and investment in this creek and in the waterways that are the primary resource of Western New York.