October 30, 2023

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

Maj. Avery Schneider

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District and Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) celebrated 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.”

Water flows calmly in and out of an abandoned shipping slip next to the Wilkeson Pointe park and kayak launch on the Outer Harbor of Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 13, 2023. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building a new wetland ecosystem here using a stone breakwater and sediment dredged from the Buffalo River. (U.S. Army photo by Avery Schneider)

“This $14.8 million initiative is that 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. “I thank the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation under the direction of Governor Kathy Hochul, and the Buffalo District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the leadership of Lt. Col. Colby Krug for their leadership in advancing this important work.”

“It’s been exciting to watch the progress in creating Slip 3’s new wetland ecosystem,” said Mark Wendel, president of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. “Directly adjacent to Wilkeson Pointe, where an extensive, year-and-a-half long improvement project is starting this fall, the Slip 3 project will help renew key elements of the aquatic habitat that New York State and Governor Hochul recognize are crucial to a vibrant waterfront.”

Gabe Schmidbauer, a project engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District, speaks about a USACE project to fill in a former industrial slip at the Buffalo Outer Harbor, Buffalo, New York, Oct. 27, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Ryan Campbell)

“Addressing legacy pollution from the Great Lakes and improving critical ecosystems is an investment in public health and our future,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Lisa F. Garcia. “EPA is proud to work with the partners through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, to improve and restore aquatic habitat along Buffalo’s waterfront area. This work will benefit all of Buffalo’s communities and the natural world for generations to come.”

In partnership with ECHDC, 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.

A pile of loose stone sits in the Port of Buffalo, waiting to be moved to a job site where it will be used to construct a stone breakwater in Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 13, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Avery Schneider)

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, which started in September and concluded on Oct. 19, 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.

A crane and mechanical claw aboard a derrick boat place loose stone from a barge to construct a stone breakwater in Buffalo, N.Y., Oct. 13, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Avery Schneider)

During the celebration, Krug, Higgins, 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 the 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.

Mike Basile, public affairs officer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, speaks about a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District, project to fill in a former industrial slip at the Buffalo Outer Harbor, Buffalo, New York, Oct. 27, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Ryan Campbell)

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.

Project information and safety signage will be installed along Fuhrman Boulevard outside Slip 3 and neighboring Wilkeson Pointe to keep the public informed and help ensure safety at the site. Hazard marker buoys will be placed to mark where the breakwater stone has been placed since the entirety of the breakwater will be submerged until underlayer stone is placed next season.

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.

Renderings of the site are available at: https://esd.ny.gov/sites/default/files/ECHDC-slip-No3-images.pdf

More information about the USACE Buffalo District is available online at: https://www.lrb.usace.army.mil/.

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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