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$5M repairs reverse ravages of climate change on Buffalo's waterfront

The newly repaired North Breakwater
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
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The newly repaired North Breakwater.

A multimillion dollar repair of a breakwater along the Buffalo waterfront is a sign of climate change on Lake Erie.

A contractor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just finished nearly $5 million in repairs on the Buffalo North Breakwater. That's the long and vast stone breakwall essentially running 2,200 feet south from near the Bird Island Pier along the waterfront, protecting the Erie Basin Marina.

Part of the repairs involved fixing the ravages of time. The other repairs involved a 300-foot breach in the breakwall from an October 2019 storm.

Army Corps Project Manager Lex Barker said breakwalls are repaired with intricate giant stonework.

"What we call standard rubble mound stone overlay that has bedding stone on the bottom of the lake," he said. "This is all on the lake side, the repair. And then, above the bedding stone is underlayer and then armor stone on top. We have large — tends to be 10-12 or 14-ton — armor stone. Each one of them weighs that much."

Barker said there are likely to be more breaches, as storms on the Great Lakes become more frequent and more violent. There will be more repairs on "the South Head section, as well as a middle section" next year and in 2023.

"The storms that we are seeing now, the frequency of the storms has increased, as well, and the structures not getting younger," Barker said. "These structures have been out there for multiple decades, some of them over 100 years old and, obviously, the degradation is only exacerbated as we have more frequent storms."