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Buffalo River Restoration Project Meeting

Filed under: Environmental

The Buffalo River once gave way to a wide-open flood plain before segueing into Lake Erie. The area was a migratory bird paradise. With the population boom in the city and the subsequent years of steel mill slag dumping, it is difficult to imagine that there was once a pristine marsh in South Buffalo. “Western New York has lost 95 percent of its waterfront habitat since the early 1800s,” says Martin Doster of the New York State Department of Conservation. “We’ve built right up to the edges, and all that riparian habitat is gone.” Disappearing habitat is not the only problem. In the past century the Buffalo River has become lined with factories and warehouses. The heavy industry that helped make Buffalo a prominent city in the 19th and 20th centuries has also taken its toll on the river. Heavy metals like lead and mercury, along with carcinogenic compounds like polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are contaminating the sediment in the riverbed. Heavy metals and PCBs accumulate in fat and tissues, increasing in concentration moving up the food chain. The EPA has set limits to the number of fish that can safely be eaten. Eighty-seven percent of brown bullhead fish sampled in the river exhibited external deformities, lesions, and/or tumors.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is working together with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and the US Army Corps of Engineers to clean up the Buffalo River. The proposed remediation project would remove one million cubic yards of sediment. Additionally, the DEC is making efforts to restore the riverbank to its previous condition. “We’re taking out areas that are affecting the rest of the river, then rebuilding them to mimic nature,” Doster said. “Every chance we get to restore a habitat, that’s important.”

Residents interested in the fate of the river are urged to attend a public meeting this Tuesday, January 25, 6-8pm. The meeting is being held at Buffalo Public School #33 (157 Elk Street). Representatives of the project will be there to detail the remediation plans and answer questions from the community. More information is available on the DEC website, the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper website, or at

brian pietrus