BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The lengthy effort to clean up the Buffalo River could pay off in the next few years.
The Buffalo News reported Sunday that the federal Environmental Protection Agency has told a local U.S. representative that the winding waterway could lose its status as an environmental danger zone, or “area of concern,” by 2025.
“This is miraculous,” Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins, who has been fighting for the river’s cleanup since his days as a South Buffalo council member in the 1980s, told the News. “The Buffalo River is emerging as a recreational waterfront of exciting new possibilities after decades as a contaminated, poisoned industrial waterway.”
After an eight-year project to remove contaminated sediment from the river is completed soon, the EPA will conduct tests over the next few years. That includes a test in 2024 to gauge whether it is safe to lift a restriction on fish and wildlife consumption. If further tests are passed the following year, the designated will be removed.
The river suffered heavy industrial pollution for decades, and even caught on fire in 1968. About 6 miles (9 kilometers) of the river, along with the City Ship Canal, were designated as an area of concern in 1987.
Helped by $100 million from the Obama administration, part of a nearly $4 billion Great Lakes restoration initiative, cleanup efforts have gradually transformed part of the river into a recreational area with waterfront apartments and bars near downtown Buffalo.
“When we were getting things started, it just looked like an impossible task,” Bill Nowak, an activist who has been involved in the cleanup push since the 1980s, told the News. “It’s just incredible: you know, the amount of hope and the fact that it’s now a real resource instead of just a dirty body of water that you wanted to stay away from that would probably be smelling on any given day and looked like it would hurt you if you tried to go swimming in it.”
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Featured image: Buffalo River, before cleanup to reviitalize and draw people to the riverfront. Photo by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper via John Hartig