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Wall section from Freezer Queen falls into Lake Erie

Workers on Monday expected to finish removing a section of concrete wall that collapsed into Lake Erie at the Outer Harbor earlier this month, as demolition of the former Freezer Queen building went awry and caused concern among environmentalists.

The wall fell into the water on Nov. 18 as demolition crews worked to take down the remnants of the six-story refrigerated storage building. The demolition site sits on a peninsula near the Small Boat Harbor, which is a state-designated wildlife habitat. It was the first such incident reported at the site, located at 975 Furhmann Boulevard.

Owner Queen City Landing LLC, controlled by Orchard Park businessman Gerald Buchheit, notified the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which issued an emergency authorization for crews to remove the wall and any remaining debris from the water, said DEC spokeswoman Kristen Davidson.

"It has been rectified and removal has been approved by the DEC," Buchheit wrote by email. "No hazardous materials fell in to the Small Boat Harbor."

The DEC order also directed Buchheit and his team to inspect the underwater area adjacent to the collapse and to assess if the nearby seawall was damaged, according to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and executive director Jill Jedlicka. Riverkeeper also said a containment boom was put in place to "prevent debris from spreading further into the harbor."

Buchheit sought to downplay the incident. "There has been no harm to the environment," he wrote by email.

Davidson said the state agency was told that the wall panel should have fallen toward the land as the rest of the structure came down, but fell into the water instead because of the way in which it was attached to the building. She said contractors last week finished removing those portions of the wall that had draped over the seawall and were scheduled to set up rigging to remove the rest of the wall on Monday.

Buchheit, together with partner Melissa Baumgart of R&P Oak Hill, is taking down the aging building in preparation for putting up a 23-story glass apartment tower and parking ramp with two restaurants, a pool and recreational features. The $60 million project currently represents the only major private development currently envisioned on the Outer Harbor.

The project has stirred controversy among environmental advocates and other critics of development who say its scale makes it inappropriate for the Outer Harbor. Riverkeeper and four Buffalo residents are currently suing the city in a bid to overturn the municipal approvals that were already granted to the project, arguing that city officials acted improperly. The cases are pending.

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