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Higgins Says Infrastructure Must Be Included in Discussion About Outer Harbor Future

Jul 9, 2014
Press Release
Congressman Submits Comment For The Record, Encourages Public to Weigh In

Higgins Suggests that Infrastructure is Vital to Outer Harbor's Future

(To access video click above or go to: https://youtu.be/WSIXZ-GJISc)

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) filed formal comments for the record as Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) hosts public meetings discussing the future of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.  In his statement, the Congressman, who in 2005 led the fight for the $279 million New York Power Authority (NYPA) federal relicensing settlement that continues to finance Buffalo’s waterfront development, stressed the need for public access to the water and infrastructure improvements to be a part of the discussion. 

“Seven years ago there was little to no activity along the inner and outer harbors; today thousands of people flock to the water day after day and it continues to grow,” Higgins said.  “What has changed since 2007?  At Canalside and along the Outer Harbor we have built the infrastructure that draws people to the water’s edge.  The best plans don’t just look at what we need now, but anticipate what we need to sustain economic growth years from now.  Infrastructure provides that foundation and momentum for long-term growth.” 

Higgins would like to see Outer Harbor plans include the Buffalo Harbor Bridge and incorporate a land use plan that anticipates removal of the Buffalo Skyway.   Higgins pointed out that the Buffalo Harbor Bridge study is in its final stages of environmental review and could be ready for construction.  The $7 million study was funded with $1.6 million in federal highway dollars and $5 million in NYPA funding secured by Congressman Higgins, plus additional state support.    The Congressman has long advocated for removal of the Skyway which sits on 27.5 acres of valuable land on the eastern side of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. 

Higgins welcomed the public discussion on land uses at the Outer Harbor and foresees the land will include generous public access and mixed use development.  “In 2008 we took on an $80 million project to reconstruct Fuhrmann Boulevard from a one-way, crumbling street that you couldn’t find, to a beautiful and accessible, two-way parkway.  With that infrastructure project came access like we’ve never seen before at the Outer Harbor.  Today, regardless of what the final plan looks like, the goal is to see more people enjoying the Outer Harbor and our community benefiting from the waterfront access that is naturally ours. It is incumbent on us to continue our work building the infrastructure that supports that objective.”

Congressman Higgins provided an outline of nearly $230 million in infrastructure investments, primarily supported by federal and NYPA funding, already complete or currently underway at the Buffalo River and Inner and Outer Harbors. 

Project

Status

Funding Source

Investment

Erie Canal Harbor

Completed in 2008

federal, State, Local

$53,000,000

Outer Harbor Greenbelt

Completed in 2008

Federal, State

$13,500,000

Aud Demo

Completed in 2009

Erie County and NYPA

$7,500,000

Cobblestone Streets at Canalside

Completed in 2010

Federal Funding including Recovery Act

$3,800,000

Outer Harbor Parkway

Completed in 2010

Federal and State Funding

$56,800,000

Ship Canal Commons

Complete in 2011

Federal Highway, Erie County, NYSDEC, Niagara River Greenway, NYS, BUDC

$9,200,000

Union Ship Canal Promenade

Complete

Federal Recovery Act

$2,000,000

Gallagher Beach Node

Complete

Federal Funding

$500,000

Mutual Riverfront Park (NYPA)

Complete

NYPA

$24,000,000

Times Beach Node

Complete

Federal  Funding

$600,000

US Coast Guard Lighthouse Access Project

Complete

Federal Funding

$6,100,000

Buffalo Lighthouse Rehabilitation

Complete

NYPA Settlement

$179,000

Buffalo RiverFest Park

Complete

City of Buffalo, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers, NYPA, NYS Canal Corporation, NY Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Dormitory Authority, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the Buffalo & Erie County Greenway Commission and the Valley Community Association  

$1,700,000

Canalside Temporary Extension of Central Wharf

Complete

NYPA Settlement

$205,000

Canalside Improvements for Concerts, Furniture, and Bathrooms

Complete

NYPA Settlement

$120,000

Tifft Street and Lake Kirsty Piers

Kirsty Completed in 2012; Tifft Underway

Federal Funding

$2,350,000

Industrial Heritage Node

Underway

Federal Funding

$1,160,000

Canalside Central Wharf Permanent Extension

Complete

NYPA Settlement & State

$998,000

Aud Block - Canals

Underway

NYPA Settlement

$25,000,000

Outer Harbor Parcel/Wilkeson Pointe

Completed 2013

NYPA Settlement

$3,100,000

Sand Beaches - Gallagher & OH Parcel

Fall 2012

NYPA Settlement

$40,590

East Canals

Completed 2013

NYPA Settlement

$5,764,180

Ohio Street

Underway

Federal w/ State & Local Match

$11,000,000

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOTAL:

$228,616,770

 

For years Congressman Higgins pushed for Outer Harbor property held by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to be transferred to an entity more suited to address waterfront needs.  In December of 2012, Higgins called for the NFTA’s property to be transferred to Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation at the cost of $2.  Higgins was involved in discussions between leaders at the State, ECHDC and NFTA which led to a September 2013 announcement by Governor Cuomo that NFTA Outer Harbor land would be transferred to ECHDC for $2 and the State will create parkland, a public swimming beach and other recreational and economic development opportunities at the waterfront.  The hearings being held this week are as a result of that transfer to determine uses for the property outside the State Park area. 

Congressman Higgins spoke about the issue from the House Floor:

“Mr. Speaker, over the past few years, Buffalo’s Inner Harbor has gone through a startling transformation. This summer, Canalside will offer over 1,000 public events, drawing in a million visitors.

“The same possibility exists for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation will host public meetings, starting tonight, to support public discussion about the future of the Outer Harbor.

“The successful growth of Canalside has been attributed to federal highway dollars and the New York Power Authority $279 million federal relicensing settlement, which is now financing the reconstruction of Buffalo’s long-neglected waterfront.

“Likewise, putting in place the infrastructure to bring Western New Yorkers to the water’s edge at the Outer Harbor will open it up to public access and private development. A good start would be to remove the structurally deficient Skyway bridge and to build a new pedestrian-friendly Buffalo Harbor Bridge, which is now in its final stages of environmental review.

“Buffalo has several waterfront master plans that each say the same thing: get to work. The attraction to Buffalo’s waterfront is the water itself, and it’s our responsibility to build the infrastructure to make that vision a reality.”

 

Below is the text of Congressman Higgins formal comments:

July 9, 2014

Mr. Robert Gioia
Chairman
Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation
95 Perry Street
Buffalo, NY 14203

Re: The planning process for the Buffalo Outer Harbor

Dear Chairman Gioia:

I commend the Corporation for commencing land-use planning for the parcels which it has recently acquired on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.  Years of concerted effort on several fronts have made this possible.  These foundational efforts include, but are not limited to, the construction of the $56.8 million Outer Harbor Parkway, completed in 2010, which made the site easily accessible for the first time, and the $13.5 million Outer Harbor Greenbelt, completed in 2008, which established public access on the site and enhanced habitat in the Bell Slip.  This milestone also could not have been reached without the relinquishment of this property by the NFTA, for which many of us have fought for so long; and this effort is, of course, financed by proceeds from the New York Power Authority’s 2006 license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Taken together, these efforts have removed the barriers which had prevented public access this critical piece of Buffalo’s waterfront and these efforts have empowered the community to reclaim it as its own.

As the Corporation has solicited public comment regarding Outer Harbor planning in association with a series of public meetings being held this week, I hereby convey my own comments with regard to this plan:

1)Water-dependence.  To the extent possible, the Buffalo Outer Harbor, like all urban waterfront land, should be reserved for water-dependent land uses.  Where this is not possible, at the very least, this unique resource should be reserved for water-enhanced uses.  This means that uses and facilities which draw users’ attention inward, are, of necessity, not the highest and best use of waterfront land and should be avoided.

2)Public access.  Except in very limited areas of marinas which must, of necessity, be limited to slipholders and their guests, the entirety of the water’s edge should be reserved for public access in perpetuity.  This edge should not then be the end of public access, but a beginning of substantial and high-quality access. 

3)Environmental sustainability.  Vast sums have been spent to remediate contaminated water, soil and sediment all along Buffalo’s waterfront.  More work is currently underway in this regard and much remains to be done.  Given this significant, ongoing investment, development on this parcel should use the latest and best storm water management and other environmental technologies so that it enhances, rather than harms, the environmental quality of Buffalo’s waterfront.

4)Scope.  The process should include not only the land which is being transferred from NFTA to ECHDC, but also other, adjacent lands owned by the state and its authorities. 

a.The NYPA Parcel.  In 2010 NYPA purchased 15 acres at 32 Fuhrmann Blvd., a portion of which is necessary for mooring vessels which can access the ice boom in the winter.  NYPA has responsibly managed and improved the site since that time.  The bulk of the site is operated as a private marina, under contract with NYPA.  Because marinas are truly water-dependent uses, the continuation of a marina operation at this site should be maintained.  It is significant to note however, that under the previous ownership, the site was not only a marina, but also a kind of nautical junk yard.  Now that NYPA and their marina operator have (appropriately) removed substantial amounts of nautical debris, it is apparent that some significant portion of the 15 acres is surplus to both the needs of the Authority and the marina.  This surplus, state authority-owned waterfront land should also be part of the planning process.

b.The Skyway Outer Harbor Footprint.  In the context of the recently-concluded Outer Harbor Parkway Project, provision was made so that Fuhrmann Blvd. could be converted from two lanes to four with minimum expense (e.g., fire hydrants were not placed in the traffic-calming bulb-outs).  The idea behind this was that eventually, it could be possible to remove the Buffalo Skyway and its associated elevated berm in its entirety, with a portion of this traffic being handled by Fuhrmann and the Buffalo Harbor Bridge.  Just counting the portion across from the land ECHDC is acquiring, the Skyway occupies 27.5 acres of prime waterfront land which faces Fuhrmann at its front and the City Ship Canal at its back.  The plan should anticipate the tremendous possibilities presented by these potential development parcels.

5)Buffalo Harbor Bridge.  The plan must build off the pre-existing planning work associated with the Buffalo Harbor Bridge.  This facility can eventually carry a significant portion of traffic which currently travels via the Skyway.  While the Ohio Street project is an important step in providing high-quality access between downtown and the Outer Harbor waterfront, the full potential of Buffalo’s Waterfront, particularly the Outer Harbor, will not be realized until a shorter-span facility with full bicycle and pedestrian capability is constructed.

6)The Density Debate.  Over the years, scores of plans, with varying degrees of detail, have been advanced for the Buffalo Outer Harbor.  On one extreme, some plans advanced a second downtown.  Buffalo’s Outer Harbor should complement, not compete with, the very good and improving downtown we already have.  As such, proposals with too much emphasis on commercial office space or other “downtown” uses should be avoided.  At the other extreme, some have advocated for 100% parkland at the Outer Harbor.  This is not economically sustainable nor should we see it as desirable.  Great urban parks, in the Olmstedian tradition, add significant value to the private property to which they are adjacent.  For that formula to work, some private, adjacent land use is necessary.  In short, the right formula for the Outer harbor is a middle ground which provides substantial, high-quality public access and complementing private uses.

Thank you very much for your leadership in this important endeavor.  I look forward to continuing to work with you and your colleagues and staff at the ECHDC and its related agencies to advance this important work.

Sincerely,

Brian Higgins
Member of Congress

 

 

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