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New Buffalo Billion II waterfront project focused on turning rustbelt blue

Think "Blueway." It is a word you are going to hear a lot in the next year or two, as Buffalo Billion II helps fund a water highway between South Buffalo Charter School and Broderick Park: the historic and industrial Buffalo waterfront.

The Blueway is another project using area waterways to enhance Western New York. Like Canalside and Buffalo's Outer Harbor, they were long neglected because you really would not want to touch that water for fear you would wind up in the emergency room.

That has all changed, especially with the multi-million-dollar cleanup of the Buffalo River. This Blueway plan will cost around $10 million in state funding plus a hoped-for match in private money to create a series of tourist nodes along the waterways, perhaps starting construction late this year.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka said the final plan will build on what is here now.

"Our role is not to duplicate what's already been done. It's to go in and enhance areas that need to be enhanced, to create new access at points where population has not been able to access it," said Jedlicka. "There are certain areas where folks with either developmental disabilities or limited mobility actually can't access the water, so we want to have universal access to these water resources."

A kayak route currently provides a general outline for the Blueway. Jedlicka said there will be a series of planning meetings this year, while doing the environmental study needed to start construction, much of it using environmental studies already completed.

The private money would come from businesspeople who see opportunities in the planned landing spots, like Riverworks or Seneca Bluffs. Entrepreneurs and people looking for recreation and exercise are already out there in relatively good weather in powerboats, sailboats, kayaks, even windsurfing -- and the hope is for many more.

"We might have a commercial district, food and beverage restaurant shops, breweries, for sure, along the river," Christopher Schoepflin, senior vice president for Empire State Development Corporation, "and so we think that providing safe and equitable access to the water and in and out points for people, good from an active lifestyle perspective, good to celebrate what's great about Western New York and also good from a business development, kind of commercial district articulation."

"One of the major outcomes of this event, too, is to create a coordinated marketing program that's also going to develop a Blueway trail guide," Jedlicka said. "So it's going to be able to be easily accessible by everyone so they know how to get to the different locations. Some of these hidden treasures that people aren't even aware they are in their backyard, so we can remind folks and make these waterways accessible in ways people have not thought about before."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.