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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Takes Next Step to Create New Wetland Ecosystem in Buffalo’s Outer Harbor

An aerial perspective identifies the site for creation of a new wetland ecosystem using dredged material in an abandoned shipping slip in Buffalo, N.Y., July 26, 2023. This beneficial use of dredged material project aims to reverse coastal wetland degradation in the Niagara River system and across the Great Lakes.

Posted on July 31, 2023

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District awarded a $5.3 million contract to Michigan-based Ryba Marine Construction Co. on July 27 to construct a stone breakwater in the abandoned Shipping Slip 3 in Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.

Construction of the breakwater marks the first major physical step in creating another new wetland ecosystem on Buffalo’s waterfront using material dredged from the Buffalo River.

“This is just the first visible step of a project that will revive the natural aquatic habitat on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor,” said Lt. Col. Colby Krug, commander of the USACE Buffalo District. “I hope all fellow Buffalonians and visitors to the waterfront will join us in envisioning the positive impact this project will have on generations of people, plants, and wildlife.”

“Under the leadership of the Army Corps Buffalo District, this project brings new life to the slip next to Wilkeson Pointe and continues to build on Buffalo’s waterfront revival,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “This is yet another example of how the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which saw funding boosted through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is directly benefiting Western New York.”

“As partners with the Army Corps of Engineers on this important project, we are excited that the Buffalo community will be able to see this next phase in creating a new wetland ecosystem at the Outer Harbor, one that complements ECHDC’s mission,” said Steve Ranalli, President of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. “Directly adjacent to Wilkenson Pointe, where an extensive, two-year improvement project starts this fall, the Slip 3 project will help renew key elements of the aquatic habitat that are crucial to a vibrant waterfront.”

In partnership with the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, the overall $14.8 million 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. The project is being conducted in three phases – construction of the breakwater, placement of dredged material, and formation of aquatic and sub-aquatic habitat.

Using approximately 44,000 cubic yards of bedding, underlayer, and armor stone, the breakwater will extend across the entire mouth of the slip, with a portion submerged to allow for connectivity to the Lake Erie and the increased health of the future wetlands. Construction of the breakwater’s base is scheduled to begin this fall and be completed by November. Construction of the upper layers is scheduled for spring 2024.

Approximately 285,000 cubic yards of sediment collected from the Buffalo River over a six-year period (an estimated three dredging cycles) will be placed in Slip 3 to create 6.7 acres of coastal wetland habitat. The next dredging cycle is scheduled for summer 2024 and will be the first to contribute material for this project. The sediment which will be used is certified as clean by state and federal standards and approved for this beneficial use.

The new habitat will also include gravel beds, rock piles, root wads, logs, and existing dock piles to provide maximum habitat complexity and structure. 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.

Project information and safety signage will be installed along Slip 3 prior to construction to keep the public informed and help ensure safety at the site.

Plans for habitat creation at the Outer Harbor used lessons learned from previous partnership between USACE and the City of Buffalo in the first successful beneficial use project on the Great Lakes – restoring a wetland ecosystem at Unity Island. Slip 3 was identified by a multiagency committee as a habitat management opportunity in the Niagara River Area of Concern.

The feasibility study for this project was 100% federally funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). USACE and ECHDC executed a Project Partnership Agreement in January 2022 enabling the design and implementation phase, now underway. Design and implementation is cost-shared 65% Federal (USACE) and 35% Non-Federal (ECHDC with funding from the GLRI).

Based on the current USACE construction budget, the ECHDC total commitment over the course of the project will be $4,972,000 over a 12-year period. This funding is from the New York Power Authority, through relicensing agreements tied to the operation of the Niagara Power Project.

The Buffalo District delivers world class engineering solutions to the Great Lakes Region, the Army and the Nation in order to ensure national security, environmental sustainability, water resource management, and emergency assistance during peace and war.


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