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USACE, ECHDC Celebrate First Phase of Construction on Buffalo Outer Harbor Wetland

Attendees of a groundbreaking event celebrating the beginning of a project to fill in a former industrial slip at the Buffalo Outer Harbor, throw rocks into the slip to ceremonially mark the beginning of the project. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Campbell)
Attendees of a groundbreaking event celebrating the beginning of a project to fill in a former industrial slip at the Buffalo Outer Harbor, throw rocks into the slip to ceremonially mark the beginning of the project. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Campbell)
A crane and mechanical claw aboard a derrick boat place loose stone from a barge to construct a stone breakwater in Buffalo, New York. (Photo courtesy of Avery Schneider)
A crane and mechanical claw aboard a derrick boat place loose stone from a barge to construct a stone breakwater in Buffalo, New York. (Photo courtesy of Avery Schneider)
BUFFALO, NY — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) celebrate completion of the 2023 construction season’s work on a new wetland ecosystem being built in Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.

USACE and its contractor, Michigan-based Ryba Marine Construction Co., placed bedding stone across the mouth of the abandoned Shipping Slip 3, forming the first layer of a submerged breakwater to contain material dredged from the Buffalo River and placed in the slip to create the base of the new ecosystem.

“The Corps of Engineers is excited to share this season’s progress on the Outer Harbor wetland project with Western New York,” said Lt. Col. Colby Krug, Commander of the USACE Buffalo District. “The positive impact this project will have on generations of people, plants, and wildlife across the community is something I’m proud of, especially as a Buffalo native.”

“This $14.8 million initiative is the latest component of a two-decade, more than $200 million, coordinated, multi-agency effort to take Buffalo’s greatest natural asset — its Lake Erie shoreline — and convert it from an inaccessible post-industrial wasteland into an interconnected system of parks and urban natural habitat, the acreage of which is roughly equal to New York City’s Central Park,” said Congressman Brian Higgins.

In partnership with ECHDC, the project aims to reverse coastal wetland degradation in the Niagara River system and across the Great Lakes. Decades of industrial development and hardening of shorelines has diminished fish nursery and spawning habitats in these areas.

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The project is being conducted in three phases — construction of the breakwater, placement of dredged material, and formation of aquatic and sub-aquatic habitat. This season’s construction included placement of 17,200 tons of bedding stone in Slip 3. The bedding stone is expected to displace silty sediment at the bottom of the slip and settle over the winter.

During the celebration, Krug, Higgins, ECHDC President Mark Wendel, and USEPA Public Affairs Officer Mike Basile, along with members of the ECHDC Board of Directors, representatives of New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s office, New York State Assembly District 149, the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, and the City of Buffalo Common Council contributed to the project’s current phase by ceremoniously tossing stones into the slip at the site of the breakwater.

USACE and Ryba Marine will resume construction in 2024, with placement of additional bedding stone, followed by 4.8 feet of underlayer stone and 7.2 feet of armor stone. The completed breakwater will extend across the entire mouth of the slip, with a portion submerged to allow for connectivity to Lake Erie and the increased health of the future wetlands. Construction of the breakwater (Phase 1) is expected to conclude in September 2024.

In the project’s second phase, approximately 285,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the Buffalo River over a six-year period (an estimated three cycles) will be placed in Slip 3 to create 6.7 acres of coastal wetland habitat. The first cycle of maintenance dredging used to contribute to the project is contracted to start in October 2024. The sediment is certified as clean by state and federal standards and approved for this beneficial use.

In the project’s third phase, planting of native species will include submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation that can compete with invasive species and provide high-quality aquatic habitat for both aquatic species and migratory/resident bird species. The new habitat will also include gravel beds, rock piles, root wads, logs, and existing dock piles to provide maximum habitat complexity and structure.

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