4 local groups are saying “Not so fast” to Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s (ECHDC) “Buffalo Outer Harbor Civic and Land Use Improvement Project General Project Plan (GPP). The groups have come together to sue the author of the GPP for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, and the City of Buffalo for Violation of Environmental Laws. The local non-profit organizations that are challenging the Plan are League Of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara, 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor, Western New York Environmental Alliance, and Sierra Club Niagara Group. The lawsuit was filed today in New York Supreme Court, Erie County, citing violations of Environmental Law and due process.
Gladys Gifford, of League of Women Voters Buffalo Niagara, a petitioner group, said, “The lack of a proper Environmental Review and resultant plan will irreparably damage the critical habitats already present at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, jeopardize future ecological improvements, as well as lead to privatization of these public shore lands.”
The groups are asking, and have been asking, for a parkland designation for Buffalo’s Lake Erie Coast at the Outer Harbor. They point to other environmental success stories along Buffalo’s Lake Erie Coast at the Outer Harbor – a large swath of waterfront property that has seen numerous development plans come and go. The Outer Harbor is bounded by Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach Nature preserve, which were once industrial sites and dump sites, and are now thriving environmental habitats.
The groups that are filing the lawsuit feel that the ECHDC should not segment, sell off, or over-program this re-naturalizing coastline.
“This is our second chance to get it right. By repurposing this post-industrial waterfront into a natural park we will recover a healthy coastal landscape, clean water, environmental resilience, health and justice for the adjacent neighborhoods. It will also beautifully complete Olmsted’s legacy of connecting our city and our park system with Lake Erie,” said Joanne Kahn of 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor, Inc., a petitioner group.
The petitioning nonprofit organizations are challenging a Negative Declaration to not perform an in-depth Environmental Review and the agency’s refusal to take the hard look required by SEQRA.
“What is the best and highest use for the coastal area of the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet?” asked John Whitney, of Western New York Environmental Alliance, a petitioner group. “Cities across the Great Lakes are in this transition, but few, if any, have an opportunity to create something as magnificent as Buffalo does right now. Let’s be bold. Let’s reach into our history while looking to the future and reclaim a space that can benefit all. Let’s not, yet again, allow entrenched, narrowly focused, self-serving development interests to use their connections to take our public and critical ecological resources for themselves.”
Buffalo’s Outer Harbor is part of a Globally Important Bird Area (Global IBA) that connects with Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach Nature Preserve, and is part of a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance containing NYS and bi-nationally significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats, including that of endangered, threatened and protected species.
The lawsuit points to the fragility of the Lake Erie environs that are, among other things, “a globally important migration corridor connecting bird habitats from the Amazon forests to the Arctic tundra, a critical spawning and nursery area for Lake Erie fish, a stopover, breeding and/or wintering grounds for many rare fish and wildlife species including Lake Sturgeon, Muskellunge, Snowy Owls, Common Terns, and a rich diversity of warbler species.”
The 4 groups filing the lawsuit have stated that ECHDC’s Plan is not consistent with the City of Buffalo’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) and Unified Development Ordinance (Green Code).
“A park designation is critical to conserving and restoring this wildlife and the habitats they need,” said Sara Schultz, Sierra Club Niagara Group Chair.
A petition authored by the Our Outer Harbor Coalition is circulating (with 5,700+ signatures) advocating for these coastal lands to be protected and restored as parkland, and to remain public in perpetuity. The coalition includes all four petitioning groups, as well as other environmental and social justice nonprofits, and a growing number of concerned citizens.