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Editorial: Build the buffer

The check is practically in the mail from the federal government to pay for a new seawall along Route 5 in Athol Springs, but New York’s state government can’t get its act together on an agreement to let the project move forward.

This key Southtowns traffic artery can’t afford to have bureaucratic red tape become a stick in the spokes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to start building the new seawall and buffer to keep out crashing waves from Lake Erie, as detailed in a story in The News. The estimated cost for the project is $6 million, which the federal government has agreed to pay. That’s like a full scholarship, there for the taking.

This potentially expensive bottleneck developed last fall. First there was an agreement in place for the federal share of the cost to be 65 percent, and the state would pay 35 percent.

Things got scrambled when the federal government instead announced it was including 100 percent of the funding in emergency supplemental funding. That meant a new project partnership agreement had to be worked out between the federal and state governments. Some differences over wording have apparently not been resolved to the state’s satisfaction, so there is not yet an agreement.

State Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, jumped into the fray, sending a letter on April 12 to the Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Transportation expressing his concern. Jacobs’ letter noted that the language in the draft of the new agreement was similar to the previous one, so he didn’t understand the holdup. The DOT has not replied.

Jacobs is right to be concerned about losing the federal funding, though the project has the backing of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who announced the supplemental funding allocation in September. But when federal largesse is offered and state bureaucrats get in the way of accepting it, there may come a time when the offer is rescinded.

The wall, to be built across from St. Francis High School, near Hoak’s restaurant, would include a quarter-mile-long pile of large boulders to absorb energy from the waves crashing off Lake Erie during storms. The waves and raging winter storms make dramatic photographs – remember the "ice car" from 2016? – but pose hazards for motorists, causing Hamburg Police to occasionally shut down the roadway.

The existing seawall is 92 years old and showing its age. The Army Corps is ready to get to work. The state needs to get out of their way.

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