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Niagara County optimistic on state funds for Olcott breakwater

Niagara County officials are optimistic about receiving state funding for construction of a breakwater in Lake Ontario that would protect the low-lying hamlet of Olcott from flooding.

Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg and County Legislator John Syracuse, both of whom represent Olcott, said Monday they've been working with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office on a project that has been on the drawing board in one form or another for more than 30 years.

This time, Syracuse said, the estimated cost is $5 million to $6 million, although a feasibility study would try to determine that price more exactly.

"We brought it up to the state. The plan's there, and the flooding brought it to the forefront," Horanburg said.

"I really feel this is a hot item for the governor," Syracuse said. He said when Cuomo and other state officials visited Wilson in July, "They said they wanted to do they can to protect this area."

A Cuomo spokeswoman confirmed there had been a meeting earlier this month with Niagara County leaders regarding the breakwater. She said the county was invited to apply for funding from a special Lake Ontario infrastructure program, created in a bill Cuomo signed in July. The application deadline is Dec. 29.

The Niagara County Legislature was expected to pass a resolution Tuesday calling on the state to fund $500,000 for a study, which Syracuse also said would include funding for a construction plan.

"It doesn't seem like they're looking for a study that would be long and protracted," Syracuse said, adding that the state officials he met with suggested passage of Tuesday's resolution.

The Army Corps of Engineers studied a breakwater in 1991 and concluded it would be effective for wave heights anticipated at the time. Horanburg said the Corps wouldn't be involved in the new project, except to issue a construction permit.

Horanburg said the proposed 600-foot-long wall would be made of rubble detached from the shore during erosion and flooding. Its thickness is yet to be determined.

It would run east to west and would be positioned about 250 feet north of the ends of the two federal piers that protrude into the lake from the mainland at Olcott on either side of the mouth of Eighteen Mile Creek. Those piers are 850 to 900 feet long.

"We're 95 percent sure it would be effective because it's similar to what Oak Orchard has," Horanburg said, referring to a lakefront harbor in Orleans County.

Lasst week, President Trump declared a federal disaster area for the Lake Ontario shores of several counties, including Niagara and Orleans.

The stone wall at the edge of the Olcott Yacht Club property collapsed in late September, putting the club's future in jeopardy, according to Horanburg. A chunk of Ontario Street in Olcott fell into the harbor in April, undermined by the high water.

The county spent more than $200,000 on berms protecting Olcott's flood-prone West Bluff neighborhood and Krull Park Beach, which was closed all year because of high water. The town placed permanent pumps at manholes in the streets of Olcott for two months, moving lake water that had infiltrated the sewers.

The breakwater was part of an elaborate plan that first surfaced in the 1980s for building Olcott into a much larger port. The plan never was carried out, despite much talk.

This time, Horanburg said, "It's not a grandiose plan. It's just a breakwall to protect that harbor from the waves."

"We kind of dusted it off and scaled it down a bit," Syracuse said.


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