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New report highlights 'cultural significance' of Buffalo's Outer Harbor

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A coalition formed to resist a proposal to privatize and redevelop public lands along Buffalo's Outer Harbor released a report Monday which, according to those who commissioned it, highlights the cultural significance of that part of the city's waterfront. It's part of an effort to preserve greenspace and public access to it as the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation prepares to update the public on initiatives at a hearing next month.

The Our Outer Harbor Coalition's partners include Buffalo Waterkeeper, Western New York Environmental Alliance, Partnership for the Public Good, Friends of Times Beach, Preservation Buffalo Niagara and eight other organizations which banded together to resist a 2014 plan that would have, according to coalition members, create residential and commercial neighborhoods along the Outer Harbor at the expense of park space and public waterfront access.

Their report, titled Buffalo New York Outer Harbor as a Cultural Landscape, was prepared by kta preservation specialists and offers a history of the Outer Harbor, starting as a wetland utilized by Native Americans and then converted into a key commercial and shipping port. 

"In a post-industrial life, this area has been reclaimed by nature and its citizens have been working hard that it becomes a place for honoring and recognizing our industrial past, while allowing for a regenerative and publicly-accessible waterfront," said Jessie Fisher, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. 

Our Outer Harbor members say they act as the public's voice to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, which has led Outer Harbor redevelopment, and they note that the original plan for larger-scale commercial and residential development soon gave way to the "lighter, cheaper, quicker" approach which includes a Greenway trail, bike park and visitors center at the Bell Slip.  

"People are imagining what it would be like if Frederick Law Olmsted came back today and designed a park on the Outer Harbor, given all that he would know now about the natural resources to be protected, about the unique fragile ecosystems out there," said Sam Magavern of Partnership for the Public Good. "We can have a really world-class amenity out there."

Our Outer Harbor hosted a public hearing Monday evening to detail its report and discuss an upcoming Erie Canal Harbor Development public hearing. The latter, according to coalition members, is planning to host that hearing on November 19, though a start time and venue had yet to be determined.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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