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Four WNY sites are named as part of a billion dollar investment to clean up Great Lakes waterways

WBFO File Photo
A view of the Buffalo River from Smith Street Park

More federal money is heading toward the cleanup of four Western New York waterways, Congressman Brian Higgins and representatives of government and public environmentalist entities announced Friday.

The federal government is announcing $1 billion from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Law will be spent to clean and delist 22 designated “Areas of Concern” throughout the Great Lakes. Included on the list are the Buffalo River, Niagara River, 18 Mile Creek and Rochester Embayment.

“The Great Lakes investments provide a great rate of return. This is called the multiplier effect by economists. And infrastructure always returns more than what you originally contribute to it,” said Higgins, who estimates for every $1 of federal money that has been spent on infrastructure work in Buffalo, $4 has come back in private investments.

This latest funding raises the overall total of investment in Great Lakes cleanup to $3.125 billion over the next five years. The goal is to get the identified Areas of Concern delisted by the year 2030.

Brian Smith, with Citizens’ Campaign for the Environment, admits he doesn’t care for the term “Areas of Concern” when identifying local trouble spots.

“The so called AOCs are toxic hotspots that have poisoned drinking water. They have rendered fish unsafe to eat. They have made people sick for decades. They have disproportionately hurt disadvantaged low income communities. This is more than just a cause for concern. This is alarming and unacceptable,” he said.

Smith was just one of several speakers lamenting the environmental impact on Western New York’s waterways by decades of dumping by previously existing industries. According to a statement prepared by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, money from the federal infrastructure law will support continuing work that will protect communities from flooding caused by severe weather and climate change, safeguard drinking water supplies for millions of people, and create new recreational opportunities along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, spoke of the emerging “blue economy” in Western New York, one that relies on its water.

“Today, our river is on the mend,” she said. “And it is certainly a hotbed of economic activity as anyone can see, $400 million of private investment and additional investment and counting. We see this in the waterfront recreation, the mixed use development, and actually a thriving ecotourism industry that is growing.”

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.