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Times Beach closed to public after storm batters boardwalk

Erie County government just finished writing a check to cover the cost of repairing the Times Beach Nature Preserve boardwalk from last winter's storm damage.

Now, county officials will have to repair it again.

Last week's storm, followed by 66 mph winds, wreaked havoc at the preserve. The extensive damage to the boardwalk and other pathways led county officials on Monday to put up barriers and close the preserve to the public until further notice.

"Literally two or three weeks ago we paid the final invoice on the project, $14,800, and that was just for one section," County Parks Commissioner Troy Schinzel said.

"We're going to have to reevaluate that entire boardwalk, from A to Z," Schinzel said.

A three-member crew with Gardenville Landscaping was busy Monday cleaning up the walkway between the preserve and Fuhrmann Boulevard, an area the City of Buffalo is responsible for. Debris was pushed up against the fence in some areas, propelled there by the thrust of waves from Lake Erie.

"It was like a hurricane rolled through here," said Derek Schneck, pausing with shovel in hand. "It was a huge mess when we got here, but it's probably a good thing we got it cleaned off so now no one is going to get hurt on this walkway."

Joe Sliwinski said he and the others had to reset a fence that was blown out of place.

"The water came right up to this walk and blew this whole fence out," Sliwinski said. "It's like driftwood all the way down to the boardwalk."

The amount of debris at Times Beach was unusual, he said.

"We've had this contract five or six years, and we've never seen this down here," Sliwinski said.

It's not known when the preserve will reopen to the public.

Schinzel said that'll happen after the non-boardwalk pathways are first deemed safe and the debris spread by the winds is cleaned up. It's still too early to say when that will be, he said.

The parks commissioner was taken aback by the amount of damage he found when he went to Times Beach to see conditions for himself.

"I was shocked at the amount of debris and damage the storm caused," Schinzel said. "Walking that boardwalk, I would not be shocked if a lot of it needed to be replaced or removed."

The safety of the piers is another concern, he said.

Schinzel said he thinks he may know why the boardwalk has been damaged twice in 2019.

He said areas in the breakwall have apparently deteriorated to such an extent that they are allowing significant amounts of water into Times Beach. The county has reached out to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get answers, he said.

"Though I'm not an engineer, it just seems like this could be related to breaches in the wall," Schinzel said.

Erie County Emergency Services has also informed FEMA of the damage and will be documenting costs in the hope of being reimbursed, he said.

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