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With seawall crumbling, Corps works to keep Broderick Park above water

Left to nature, Broderick Park could rest at the bottom of the Niagara River by 2033.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a plan.

The Corps of Engineers is investigating how it can shore up a nearly mile-long stretch of shoreline from the Buffalo wastewater treatment plant to Bird Island Pier.

When the Corps finishes its feasibility study next year, construction could start by 2021 or 2022. But how much it would cost and who would pay for it is still unknown.

“The main purpose is to protect the wastewater treatment plant and the access to it,” said Michael Draganac, the Corps of Engineers’ plan formulator on the project.

Erosion, ice scouring and waves over the years have taken a toll along the more than 80-year-old seawall that separates the Niagara River from the Black Rock Canal.

Water infiltrates spots along the wall and pulls stone and concrete material out of its timbered lathe and cribbing foundation, washing it into the river’s current.

Small sinkholes even crop up along the shoreline at the park and require periodic patching by the City of Buffalo.

In its study of the damage, Corps of Engineers officials reported sections of the concrete seawall and stone-filled timber crib have significantly deteriorated over the past half-century. That threatens the wastewater treatment plant and the park.

How dire is the situation?

“I think it’s basically at the end of its life span,” Draganac said of the current seawall there.

The Corps of Engineers is partnering with the City of Buffalo to complete a $500,000 feasibility study that would determine exactly what should be done and how much it would cost.

"It's still a little early to tell what it's going to be," said Andy Rabb, Buffalo's deputy commissioner of public works, parks and streets.

Piecemeal repairs, including filling in potholes, sinkholes and shoring up the guardrails by city parks and engineering crews, have become frequent at the site over the last five years suggesting that the deterioration of the shoreline may be accelerating.

If nothing’s done, the problem will only get worse – and quickly, the Corps of Engineers said.

“This deterioration is expected to continue at this pace and potentially accelerate exponentially,” the Corps of Engineers said in its study. “Based on multiple site visits, dive inspection and engineering judgment, it is estimated that some portion of the wall could fail within the next 15 to 20 years.”

The battered seawall separating Broderick Park from the Niagara River. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Repair plans

The Corps of Engineers is still exploring different alternatives for how to fix the seawall and how much it would cost.

Four of them address the first section of the wall – a more than 3,000-foot reach north from the Bird Island pier that includes a concrete wall atop the deteriorating base.

Underneath the water's surface, the seawall's timber and stone foundation is crumbling away.

Draganac said some wood is completely missing. Stone that was inside, holding up material above them, washed away into the river.

“That’s where you see the formation of the sink holes,” Draganac said.

Plans to shore up the wall there could include:
• grouting failing timber by filling it with concrete.
• installing a new drainage system – with piping and granular fill – that would prevent storm water and overtopping waves from pulling more material out of the wall.
• attaching a pair of one-quarter-inch thick permanent steel plates where the old Ferry landing was and grouting other areas with cement.
• removing loose and failing concrete, then cleaning and resurfacing it.

“Right now, we have conceptual alternatives,” Draganac said. “There’s no recommended plan at this point.”

Farther north, the 1,800-foot stone embankment that holds Broderick Park and Buffalo’s sewage treatment plant back from the Niagara River would be turned into a new rock wall to protect the shoreline and the vital infrastructure located there.

It would be designed to reduce energy and overtopping from waves and reduce shoreline erosion, the Corps of Engineers said.

It’s necessary work, they said.

“There was enough information and cause of concern, the project was potentially justified for federal dollars being invested to protect the wastewater treatment plant,” Draganac said.

[U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Broderick Park Fact Sheet]

Doing nothing would only allow the deterioration to continue, the Corps of Engineers said.

That could result in hazards for pedestrians on the Shoreline Trail, loss of shoreline protection and an inevitable collapse of the wall, the Corps of Engineers said.

“Based on that need we identified, repairs to the wall are warranted,” said Sheila Hint, the project manager for the Broderick Park project.

The Corps of Engineers and the city have had a history of collaborative partnership along the Niagara River.

They're engaged in a $4.1 million project for design and construction of seawall repairs at LaSalle Park.

"It's beneficial for us to do it this way," Rabb said. "We can't do this type of work without federal participation."

Study targets shoreline erosion

Rabb said it's also why the city has held back on any major cosmetic upgrades or visitor's amenities in and around Broderick Park and the trail connecting the northern end of Unity Island near the International Railroad Bridge.

"We knew that this study was happening, and that's why we limited the amount of work that's going on," Rabb said.

This notch (upper left) along the Niagara River shoreline at Broderick Park is impeding the upstream progress of the emerald shiner, a key minnow species in the river's ecosystem. (T.J. Pignataro/Buffalo News)

Helping habitat

This stretch of the Niagara River’s shoreline is critical to its ecosystem.

It’s why the Corps of Engineers also expects to enhance aquatic habitat here as part of the project.

“So, it’s not just us coming in, dumping a whole bunch of stone, armoring that bank and then walking away,” Draganac said.

If they can help the emerald shiner upstream to Lake Erie, that will be a big coup.

The shiner – a keystone species in the river that provides needed food sources for other fish and birds – struggles against an accelerated river current caused by the vertical seawall at Broderick Park, a recent study by SUNY Buffalo State’s Great Lakes Center and the University at Buffalo showed.

Tiny fish casts big shadow over health of Niagara River

A notch in the shoreline near Broderick Park creates a man-made gyre along the seawall where upstream-swimming shiner schools congregate.

Then, the current blows them back downstream.

“We want to pay attention to the design we proceed with to make sure it’s not going to constrict the Niagara River any more than it already is in this stretch,” said Andrew Hannes, a Corps of Engineers ecologist. “We’re considering a design that actually has a scalloped shoreline in this area to create a little bit more shoreline roughness.”

Hannes said that could help slow down water velocities and create better conditions for fish moving up and down the shoreline.

The red star marks the spot where a gyre in the Niagara River impedes the upstream progress of the emerald shiner, a joint study by SUNY Buffalo State's Great Lakes Center and the University at Buffalo found. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Corps of Engineers is working with the University at Buffalo to create a fish passage or some type of feature – a boat fender-like device – that could be installed along any wall they build as part of the larger project that can facilitate the emerald shiners’ passage upstream.

Installing enough roughness along the vertical seawall, could slow current speeds down just enough to give the shiners some resting spots on their quest to get upstream.

“Once they’re to the rip-rap of the Bird Island Pier, rip-rap does a pretty good job at slowing down velocities,” Hannes said. “If we can get them to that point, they should have free access to under the Peace Bridge and into Lake Erie.”

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