Thanks to its proximity to the Niagara River and the Erie Canal, the City of Tonawanda Police Department's marine division is in prime position to respond quickly to water emergencies with its $250,000 rescue boat.
Only one thing prevents that from happening: easy access to the boat, which is kept at a nearby dock and brought to the police department when it is needed.
But that awkward situation might be changing.
The city plans to build a police marine headquarters, after receiving $100,000 in funding through the state Dormitory Authority with support from Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore.
The city learned late last week that its Waterfront Dock Expansion plan was approved by the Buffalo and Erie County Greenway Fund Standing Committee with an award of $366,138. The city received almost $500,000 from the Department of State last year, which will be used for 14 docks with slips for 14 boats near the pavilion in Niawanda Park. The city also plans to extend its floating watersports dock at the canal and creek near the intermodal hub on Young Street.
Police officials were especially pleased with the prospect of a new home for their waterway operations.
Lt. Scott Sheehan, who heads the city's marine division and dive team, said the dive team equipment is "jam packed" into several storage bays at police headquarters. The new headquarters would give his team a place to store equipment, suit up and also a site to use as a command center during water emergencies.
The city's marine boat is stored at nearby Smith Boys Marina in the offseason. During the boating season, the boat is also docked at Smith Boys marina and then brought to the city's floating dock during emergencies. The floating dock is pulled in and out of the water as needed for police emergencies.
Sheehan said the obvious problem is that when it goes into storage it's difficult to get the boat out, making it unavailable in an emergency.
"It takes days for them to move boats and get to our boat," added Sheehan.
Sheehan said the rough portion of Niagara River behind the police department makes it impossible to permanently dock its boat in the water, without some type of break wall or hydraulic lift. He said the police department has had to use a floating dock, pulling it in and out of the water, for "as long as I can remember."
The police garage and dock were not granted Greenway funds because they are not for public use, but Sheehan said their plan will be to build a permanent dock that serves as an emergency dock to get rescue gear out and first aid out. Sheehan said it will be built using Department of State funding, rather than Greenway money.
"It would allow us to bring patients to shore. There's no better place to stage an ambulance than right behind a police station," said Sheehan. "You don't get any closer to the water than we are. You have to have this ability."
He said the goal is to begin putting the marine headquarters up this year and finish by the spring of next year, or earlier.
The waterfront changes are a part of the city's Comprehensive Plan, which the Common Council reviewed this week.
Justin W. Steinbach, a planner and associate from Clark Patterson Lee told the council that the plan will help guide the city's future for the next 10 to 12 years and can be used as a way to secure grant funds.
"Obviously the city can't fund everything in the plan by themselves. It would be an astronomical effort," he said.