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New Scajaquada Creek wetlands filtering pollutants

Picture the restored Buffalo River, with natural shorelines and new habitat for wildlife.

That's the goal for Scajaquada Creek, and the first step in Forest Lawn Cemetery is almost finished.

"That water will be much, much cleaner," state Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, said Tuesday.

Jacobs and state Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, announced each had secured $300,000 in state funding to complete the $2.8 million restoration project. The grants paid for the construction of more than 23,000 square feet of wetland area which will provide sediment storage, reduce flooding and act as a biological filter for stormwater entering the creek.

"Scajaquada Creek has really been one of the most mistreated waterways in Western New York," Ryan said. "This is the first step of many that we must take to clean up Scajaquada Creek."

This part of the Scajaquada Creek within Forest Lawn Cemetery is being transformed into a wetland near the creek to help clean the Scajaquada through natural water filtration and provide overflow areas for water to prevent flooding. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The main problem with the 13-mile-long creek lies upstream in Cheektowaga and Buffalo, where hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated sewage empties into the waterway, Ryan said. This project won't stop that untreated sewage from flowing into the creek. But the restoration is an important step, Ryan said.

"This project has proven to be the catalyst we need it to be," said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.

The project has been nearly 10 years in the making, she said. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper worked with Forest Lawn Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the area of the creek within the cemetery. The cemetery had wanted to improve its bridges and abutments in the creek area.

The creek, which was straight and mucky, now meanders a little bit and new vegetation is being planted along the shoreline to help naturally filter pollutants.

The last part of this phase, a lower wetlands to hold creek overflow when it floods, and an upper spring-fed wetlands with freshwater, are being funded by the $600,000 secured by the two state legislators. The project is to be completed this year.

Ryan said the project is one of optimism. It is designed so no water from the creek will be allowed to get into the upper wetland.

"If, in fact, the water in the creek becomes clean, then we can make it so those two waterways can connect," he said.

The area of the new wetlands area used to be known as Swan Lake, said Joseph Dispenza, president of Forest Lawn.

In April 1959 it was thought the best way to clean or fix the creek problem was to fill in Swan Lake, he said.

"Through Waterkeeper's commitment to never ending improvement, here you are: restored, natural, better, healthier and soon to welcome the public back to what was a polluted Swan Lake," Dispenza said.

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