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Schumer wants feds to fast-track Route 5 seawall

It's one wall that Sen. Charles Schumer supports.

But plans for a quarter-mile long revetment designed to absorb the waves from Lake Erie along Route 5 in Athol Springs could be in jeopardy if the federal government does not allocate money for the estimated multimillion-dollar project.

The federal portion, which was to be funded through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would be 65 percent with the state picking up the rest of the bill.

The Senate minority leader held up a piece of concrete that fell off of the deteriorating 14-foot high vertical seawall during a visit to the site Thursday afternoon. He called on the Corps of Engineers to "expeditiously prioritize funding" for the project.

Schumer said the new barrier "is critical" for the safety of the more than 40,000 motorists who drive along the Southtowns arterial every day.

"I just saw two friends who were going into Hoak's who live here in Hamburg. I said 'how's Route 5 in the winter?' They said, 'we don't dare go on it,' " Schumer said. "And, that's a problem when you have a major thoroughfare."

Currently, a failing 91-year-old sea wall takes the brunt of Lake Erie's waves, which often wash up and onto Route 5. During the winter, it becomes especially hazardous as the lake water quickly turns to ice on the roadway or on the windshields of passing cars and trucks.

No more ice cars? New wall aims to control waves on Route 5

"It's a very dangerous situation," said Gregory Wickett, the Town of Hamburg's police chief. "Three or four times just this past year, we had to close this road."

Authorities fear that near-record lake water levels could cause that number to balloon to seven or more this fall and winter.

The Corps of Engineers plans to construct a revetment that starts about 30 to 40 feet out in the lake and slopes up above-grade at the roadway.

The revetment would absorb the wave action as it comes in from Lake Erie.

A pedestrian pathway is also planned to run along the top of the revetment, which would stretch from the southern end of Hoak's restaurant around to properties in the 4100 block of Route 5.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation gave its blessing to the project in May when it approved a water quality certificate. Compensation agreements with several landowners along the stretch took place soon after that.

Construction on the revetment was slated to begin next year, but funding constraints could hold that up.

Schumer said that shouldn't happen.

The Corps of Engineers already has been allocated money by Congress, according to Schumer, who added that the Corps needs to prioritize funds for the Route 5 wall and make monies available for the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.

"When you have 40,000 people using this highway every day, it should have a lot higher priority than other Army Corps projects," Schumer said. "I am going to push the Army Corps of Engineers to put this at the top of its list and get the revetment done."

The Corps of Engineers Buffalo District Office expressed appreciation for "the support of our Congressional representatives" and said it will continue working in its chain of command to get the Athol Springs project funded.

"The current design and construction of the Athol Springs project requires approximately $2 million of federal funding," said Andrew A. Kornacki, public affairs chief for the Corps of Engineers' Buffalo District.

Kornacki added: "If federal funds are received shortly, construction on the Athol Springs project could start later this year."

Ed Hoak, the owner of Hoak's restaurant, said he's heard about plans for projects like this one "for 40 years" but believes it's for real this time – especially after Thursday's visit from Schumer.

"I've never seen this much emphasis – at the top level – on this," Hoak said.

Which begged another question:

While national debate rages over a 2,000-mile wall proposed by President Trump at the nation's southern border, why does Washington's highest-ranking Democrat think building this quarter-mile structure along Lake Erie is more important?

"It gets my attention because I stay in touch with Buffalo," Schumer said. "I like doing stuff like this."

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