An Outer Harbor Petition

 

(This 1230th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on October 19, 2014.)

 

Proposed building on Buffalo Outer Harbor parklands

 

This is my 1230th weekly Nature Watch column and until now I have never asked a favor from you readers. I do so today. I urge you to sign my petition seeking to save the lands adjacent to the Buffalo Outer Harbor as public parklands. And I urge you further to contact your friends across the country in support of this petition. I will explain why in this column.

 

Niagara Falls is a world wonder that attracts millions of visitors to this region. What do they then find as they travel south along the Niagara River? Most of the way is an embarrassment to our region: trash-strewn industrial development, an expressway and restricted private property. Yes, if you look hard you can find access to the river, but 90% of the way is simply bad news.

 

Compare this with the Canadian side of the river. There the percentage is reversed: most of the way is in lovely wooded parkland with residential sections set well back from the shoreline.

 

Even areas that might be considered open on our side are essentially private. Consider, for example, the area just north of the Small Boat Harbor. Venture into that area and you will likely be stopped by security guards.

 

Now we have the Outer Harbor area along the south shore of Lake Erie being considered for development that would further privatize these lands. Although it is south of the Buffalo River, this land is still within the City of Buffalo.

 

This is very valuable waterfront property but developers see that value only in structures. Look at the income it will produce if we build on it, they say, with no care whatsoever for the counterbalancing costs of constructing and providing services to those same buildings. And, although they paint their plans bright

green, they are creating more areas that duplicate what we already have too much of and ill-serve the public and the wildlife that would lose those resources.

 

Instead, I see this property dedicated to public access. Instead of encouraging builders to submit plans in the tradition of Robert Moses, we should be thinking in terms of Frederick Law Olmsted.

 

Local preservation groups have outlined principles to guide preservation of this property. Among them are the proposal of the Western New York Environmental Alliance.

 

I am not opposed to buildings on this property, but instead of duplicating downtown Buffalo on the waterfront, further planning should proceed in an entirely different direction. I suggest that representatives of the Buffalo Museum of Science, the Buffalo Historical Society, the Buffalo Public Schools, the Buffalo Audubon Society and our local colleges and universities utilize their resources to develop a center there that would enhance its educational, historical, maritime and environmental value yet fit with its surroundings.

 

Of course, this will occasion more delay, but we have put up with interminable delay already just to be presented a proposal that can only satisfy developers and their political cronies who stand to gain from it financially. I thank Brian Higgins and Sean Ryan for publicly breaking ranks with them.

 

I add here a specific concern about this enclave. Many birds migrating north in spring accumulate along the shore of Lake Erie and seek to pass around its northeastern corner. This region's senior ornithologist, Robert Andrle, and I developed a listing of the wildlife of Times Beach and the Outer Harbor. Included on the list we gathered from museum records were 236 species of birds together with 26 mammals and a number of rare plants specific to this region. Some of those birds are resident here, but most pass through this region during their spring and fall migration. At those times birders come to this region from across the nation to observe the flights that funnel through this restricted area. And at other times birders come to witness waterfowl flights and wintering gulls.

 

But I am not asking for this area to be left fallow. Wildlife and people do mix. We can still have picnic areas, public beaches, buildings that house appropriate activities, boat launching sites along with wooded and marshland areas that support wildlife. What we don't want is another honky-tonk waterfront strip and a bunch of private condos for the wealthy.

 

Finally, I suggest that this is not just a Buffalo project nor is it even an Erie County or New York State project. These are lands significant to this nation and I urge you to help preserve them by signing our petition.-- Gerry Rising