By Larry Beahan
The Maritime Academy expansion, proposed on South Buffalo’s Buffum Street, is in the wrong place. A maritime academy belongs on the water. Let’s find a place for this wonderful school on our burgeoning waterfront. With its Coast Guard Station, the fireboat Edward M. Cotter, the USS Little Rock, the USS The Sullivans, the U.S. Navy Reserve Training Station, lake freighters, marinas and pleasure boats and its rich nautical history, what better a place could there be to teach aspiring seamen?
The location on South Buffalo’s Buffum Street, jammed into the narrow byways of a tightly built older neighborhood is no place for a major high school with 525 students and faculty. The traffic jams that would choke the neighborhood alone are enough to nix the deal.
The hasty environmental impact estimate on the Buffum site must have entirely ignored the terrible drainage problem there. The present school and its broad, hard-surfaced parking lot sit on a 15-foot ridge above its backdoor neighbors. In any kind of a heavy rain, runoff from the school floods the backyards and basements of Zittel Street residents, directly behind the school. They are already plagued with flooding. The hard surfaces of the proposed large new building with its expanded parking will cover the existing beautiful and absorbent stretch of trees and lawn beside the school and will drastically aggravate the flooding.
In 1996, the Buffalo Sewer Authority and the Board of Education considered correcting this problem with catch basins and drainage to the Buffum Street sewer. No funds were available, the flooding continues today and the Sewer Authority has not heard from the developer on it.
There is another reason not to cram such a large facility into quarters so tight. Buffum Street has historic charm that demands reverence. Just down the street half-block, a bronze plaque on a boulder marks Seneca Indian Park. The boulder is surrounded by a grassy field shaded by ancient trees. It is the site of a burial ground in the heart of the former Seneca Buffalo Creek Reservation. The remains of the great Seneca leader, Red Jacket, and the “White woman of the Genesee,” Mary Jemison, once rested here.
The treed lawn beside the school is as pretty as the park down the street. If it is sacrificed to development it demands archaeological study first.
To add to this historical significance, directly across the street from the school is the recently restored Buffum House, the oldest residence in South Buffalo.
The Maritime Academy is doing a fine job of educating the future leaders of our Merchant Marine and Navy. The academy deserves a fitter and more welcoming home. We owe those future mariners a site on the shores of our inland sea, Lake Erie.
Larry Beahan is conservation chairman of the Sierra Club, Niagara Group.