Outer Har­bor plan needs to fo­cus on re­gen­er­a­tion

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Buf­falo wa­ter­front By Margaret Wooster Margaret Wooster of Buf­falo is a mem­ber of the Outer Har­bor Coali­tion.

A fi­nal pub­lic hear­ing on the Erie Canal Har­bor Devel­op­ment Corp.’s plan for the Outer Har­bor is due in May. What will the plan be? Hope­fully these past few win­ters have put to rest any no­tion of hous­ing in an area so lack­ing in pub­lic ameni­ties and so vul­ner­a­ble to lake ef­fect weather. Last month, a po­lar vor­tex closed ac­cess to the Outer Har­bor with high winds, cold and ice. Imag­ine be­ing a res­i­dent stuck in a shore­line glass tower out there.

As far as we know, even from ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence, peo­ple never lived on the Outer Har­bor. There was once briefly a small com­mu­nity at the north end near Times Beach. But it was wiped out by a se­iche – a wind­driven Lake Erie pile-up of up to 20 feet above nor­mal levels at our end, ca­pa­ble of tsunami-like waves and ex­treme flood­ing. These now oc­cur with in­creas­ing fre­quency.

So, for the sake of ev­ery­one, hous­ing should be off the ta­ble, and the Com­mon Coun­cil should re­vise the Green Code to make that clear.

The ba­sic ques­tion we hope the plan will ad­dress is this: What is the best and high­est use of Buf­falo’s Lake Erie coast?

The ECHDC mem­bers are rel­a­tively new in town, yet they are the “own­ers” and devel­op­ers of the cen­tral 400 acres of the lake­front. I say “own­ers” in quotes be­cause a large group of peo­ple with deep roots in the com­mu­nity – in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal, an­gler, health and well­ness, and her­itage groups rep­re­sent­ing thou­sands of lo­cal and re­gional res­i­dents – see it as “ours.”

We re­gard the Outer Har­bor, al­ready mostly pub­lic land, as a pub­lic trust. held by the gov­ern­ment for the peo­ple.

Our lake­front is Buf­falo’s best hope for re­set­ting the tra­jec­tory of our city and lake to­ward a fu­ture that pro­vides for the com­mon good, for sur­vival of our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. It is our sole source of wa­ter, and a place where any­one can fish from shore or through a hole in the ice and eat their catch (mostly – there are still ad­vi­sories about eat­ing carp). It is a place where ice can pile up, leav­ing river and down­town com­mu­ni­ties free from flood­ing. It pro­vides ac­cess to na­ture for all, with sim­ple bike and walk­ing trails and free, of­ten spec­tac­u­lar, nat­u­ral at­trac­tions.

The ba­sics are all there. But two cen­turies of use as a port and in­dus­trial cen­ter have left a legacy of con­tam­i­nants, im­pov­er­ished soils, in­va­sive plants and al­most no na­tive seed bank.

ECHDC has a lim­ited pot of pub­lic money and an in­ter­est in “re­gen­er­a­tive land­scapes.” Let this be the foun­da­tion of the devel­op­ment plan. Let the lion’s share of re­sources and en­ergy be put to it: re­gen­er­a­tion. We have a past to clean up and a fu­ture to pro­vide for. The op­por­tu­nity is now.

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