A 4.72 megawatt solar farm that has been proposed for Unity Island Park is getting some pushback from a number of concerned community members regarding future opportunities lost. To that end, the Black Rock Riverside Alliance (BRRA) has drafted a letter and resolution that the park be protected from these types of light industrial interests that do not directly benefit the future of the waterfront as a whole.
For years, the community had fought for the cleanup of this island, that was previously the site of an incinerator and landfill. A considerable amount of public funds were spent, under DEC supervision to convert this to parkland. Today the park is heavily used by community members many of them refugees. It is also a desirable green space – the parcel proposed for the 11,780 panel project is composed of hills and open fields (next to the Buffalo Sewer Authority). The BRRA feels that there is much more potential for the land as a community asset, instead of solar arrays meant to power the Sewer Authority. Members of the BRRA say that this project has been two years in the making, yet they are just finding out about it now.
It was back in 2001 that the DEC capped the land, with transference of responsibilities to the City, which was designated steward and caretaker of the land for creation of a park. Opponents to the solar panels are asking why this 28-acre property is once again being eyed as an underutilized parcel, when they have their own ideas for better community-driven land use. The designated use as parkland has already been established. Not only have they been kept out of the loop, they are now fearful that their voices won’t be heard at all.
The property in question could become a valuable extension connector between the park and Black Rock, the West Side, and the newly energized Niagara Street. There is the history of the Underground Railroad to consider, and historic site of the War of 1812, the Scajaquada Corridor, and Black Rock Harbor – therefore, it’s time to get community input, to see what the best use for the land is currently, and in the future. If that means a solar farm, or park land, there is a process that must be followed. “Realize the vision of the park set out 20 years ago. Just think of it this way – dedicating 28 acres of waterfront parkland to supply 80 percent of the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s annual power?
While the Common Council’s Legislative Committee is in session tomorrow (October 7), the issue might be temporarily tabled, which would give the Black Rock and Riverside communities time to figure out the true worth of the property. BRRA members say that they support solar power. That’s not the issue. The issue is the best use for the property, especially now with Vision Niagara, the cleanup of Scajaquada Creek underway, and the waterfront finally evolving into a place where people want to be? As everyone is concentrating on the future of the Outer Harbor, the Buffalo River, and LaSalle Park, this opportunity must be fully vetted, say BRRA members, who feel as if they have been, once again, kept in the dark about the proposal.
One concerned BRRA member stated that it would be prudent if “… the public can ask more questions about environmental impact, dangers of malfunction, disposal plan for panels, and the environmental justice of taking away 20+ acres of designated parkland utilized heavily by a community of people of color and one of the most heavily used parks in the city that already has no facilities provided. Not to mention the historic connections this space has with the Underground Railroad and the War of 1812. It is part of our City’s story – past and present – and we need it to continue to be part of our future story.”