September 23, 2008

Coalition Intent on Six-Mile Cleanup

By Stephen T. Watson

A $3 million project bringing together the federal government, an environmental group and a private company will study how best to restore a heavily contaminated six-mile section of the Buffalo River, officials announced Monday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and Honeywell International are launching an effort to determine both the extent of pollution in the riverbed and the most cost-effective way to clean up the river.

The full cleanup will cost tens of millions of dollars and could begin as early as 2010, once a formal plan is selected, said Julie Barrett O'Neill, Riverkeeper's executive director.

"It's a complex mixture of contaminants, and therefore this intensive scientific analysis is really necessary," said O'Neill, who was joined in a news conference at Erie Basin Marina by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and State Sen. William T. Stachowski, D- Lake View.

For decades, factories and other industrial facilities along the river dumped chemicals, lead, mercury and other contaminants, poisoning the river's wildlife and habitat.

It was declared dead by the 1920s, and caught fire in 1968, according to Riverkeeper.

In 1987, the Buffalo River was named one of 43 areas of concern in the Great Lakes basin, and state and local officials developed a remedial plan.

However, contamination in sediments at the river bottom persists, bacteria levels continue to restrict human contact with the water, and fish and other wildlife have not returned.

Since 2005, Riverkeeper has worked with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Conservation on sediment sampling and analysis.

Honeywell contributed $1.2 million of the $3 million toward the cleanup. Its corporate predecessor, Allied Chemical, owned the Buffalo Dye Plant along the river's edge until 1977.

Under the new plan, workers this fall will take a final round of sediment samples from a section of the river running from the Buffalo Lighthouse to its confluence with Cazenovia Creek. The cleanup also includes the City Ship Canal.

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Originally published by NEWS STAFF REPORTER.

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