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Riverkeeper and EPA Sign Great Lakes Legacy Act Agreement for the Buffalo River

Release Date: 04/04/2007
Contact Information: Mike Basile, EPA (716) 551-4410, or Julie Barrett O'Neill, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper (716) 852-7483

(Buffalo, N.Y.) In a move that highlights the success of the Great Lakes Legacy Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper have joined together in partnership to address contaminated sediments in the Buffalo River. The two entities signed an agreement to assess the contaminated sediments in the river, which is an important step toward the eventual cleanup of the River. This agreement marks the first time that a non-profit organization fulfills the role of local project sponsor for a Great Lakes Legacy Act project to address contaminated sediments in the Great Lakes Basin.

“This agreement underscores the commitment we and our partners have made in response to a legacy of contamination in this Western New York waterway,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “This partnership with DEC and the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper will improve an important community asset by enhancing its environmental, recreational and economic values.”

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper has been working with local agencies on contaminated sediment cleanup efforts since 1990. Through Riverkeeper’s management of the Buffalo River Remedial Action Plan, significant resources from the local, state and national level are now being directed towards the cleanup of the Buffalo River.

Julie Barrett O’Neill, Riverkeeper’s Executive Director stated that, “Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper in local partnership with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and our Buffalo River Remedial Advisory Committee, has helped raise the priority for clean up and visibility of the Buffalo River to a national level. Through progressive collaboration with our local partners, over the last several years, we have been able to make significant progress towards the cleanup of the river.”

“The Lower Buffalo River assessment project represents another important step towards environmental restoration of the Buffalo River,” said DEC Regional Director Abby Snyder. “With assistance from EPA’s research vessel, the Mudpuppy, over 170 sediment cores from throughout the lower Buffalo River will be collected and analyzed beginning this June. DEC is pleased to be a partner in the collaborative effort to restore the Buffalo River to a clean, healthy and vibrant community asset. This project is one more example of New York’s commitment to achieving the goals of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration’s Strategy to Restore and Protect the Great Lakes.”

The Lower Buffalo River assessment project will cost $800,000. EPA has committed $400,000 to the project, and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, in significant partnership with DEC is also providing in-kind services valued at over $400,000 for the first phase of the project.

The International Joint Commission, the US-Canadian government organization concerned with water quality, designated 43 of the most contaminated areas around the Great Lakes as “Areas of Concern” (AOCs). Nearly all of the remaining 40 AOCs suffer from a legacy of industrial pollution that has left the sediments contaminated by toxic chemicals and metals. Two Canadian and one U.S. AOC have been successfully restored and officially delisted. Pollution from past industrial and municipal discharges and waste disposal has earned the Buffalo River designation as one of these AOCs. River bottom sediments are contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, mercury, other heavy metals and other industrial chemicals.

The Great Lakes Legacy Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in 2002. Beginning in 2004, the Act authorized $270 million over five years to help with remediation of contaminated sediment in designated AOCs within the Great Lakes Basin. To date, six other projects have been funded through the Legacy Act. The Buffalo River project is the first in New York State.

The Lower Buffalo River project will analyze the levels and volumes of contaminated sediments within the lower three miles of the Buffalo River Area of Concern (AOC), which includes the Inner Harbor and City Ship Canal. This Great Lakes Legacy Act Project will complement work currently underway to assess the extent of contaminated sediments in the Upper Buffalo River, from Hamburg Street to Cazenovia Creek.

Scientists will take samples of the sediment this June to determine the extent of the contamination in the Lower Buffalo River, and to find ways to clean up the contaminated sediments. The same type of work is already underway in the Upper Buffalo River, and should be completed this fall. The assessment project announced today is expected to be completed in mid-2008. The results will be used by the Buffalo River stakeholders to design and submit a sediment cleanup proposal for potential EPA Great Lakes Legacy Act funding in 2009.

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