Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the completion of a $4.3 million wetland restoration project on Strawberry Island, located in the upper Niagara River near Buffalo, that will rejuvenate the island's fish and wildlife preserve. The project focused on supporting the ecological restoration of the Niagara River to increase the sustainability of the environment, while promoting the region's growing tourism industry in Western New York. Marking the final phase of a $13 million regional environmental improvement initiative, the completed project supplements the Governor's investment in the Buffalo Billion II initiative.
"As part of New York's commitment to protecting the environment and revitalizing Western New York, we are investing in the preservation and cultivation of shorelines across the Buffalo-Niagara region," Governor Cuomo said. "The major revitalization effort on Strawberry Island, and in surrounding habitats, will help ensure the Niagara River remains a vital lifeline for wildlife and a region-wide attraction for years to come."
"Governor Cuomo's continued commitment to restoring New York State's natural resources and beauty is making New York an attractive global destination," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "The islands of the Niagara River are a significant part of our history and our community here in Western NY, and the Strawberry Island project is an important part of preserving and protecting our environment and heritage for future generations."
After two years of construction, bulldozers and barges have been removed from the lagoon off the Buffalo shoreline, and Strawberry Island is now home to an expanded habitat for more birds, fish and plants to thrive both under and above water. A total of eight acres of diverse wetland and upland habitat are being established through an ongoing multi-year planting program.
The ongoing planting phase of this project, which is expected to be completed in 2018, includes the installation and maintenance of native shrubs, wildflowers and aquatic vegetation at the newly reconfigured site, as well as installation of some protective and replacement measures for upland tree species. The extent of much of the recent planting work is made more visible by the presence of temporary plastic fencing that is installed during the growing season to protect newly planted native species from consumption by carp, geese, or other hungry species.
Other habitat improvement projects within or along the upper Niagara River include:
- Reconstructed shoreline at Motor Island, including supplementary work that is being planned;
- Five acres of restored wetland habitat in the river between Strawberry and Motor Islands;
- A new 8-acre wetland at the creek adjacent to Little Beaver Island;
- Fish attraction structures at four locations in the Tonawanda Channel of the river;
- Five osprey nesting poles and platforms;
- Two invasive species control sites in Tifft Marsh in Buffalo and Buckhorn Marsh on Grand Island; and
- Three common tern nesting sites just outside of Buffalo Harbor.
This is the last of eight habitat improvement projects that the New York Power Authority promised along the upper Niagara River as part of the 2007 federal relicensing of the Niagara Power Project. In addition to completed improvements, NYPA will provide funds and support for operation and maintenance of all eight projects for the 50-year term of the Niagara plant's license.
The restoration project builds on earlier habitat improvements made by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which permitted and oversaw the present work. In cooperation with the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the first phase of the project was completed in 2016, which involved dredging and excavation in shallow water and creating an island in front of Strawberry Island's lagoon to reduce waves and erosion. This helped encourage the growth of wetland and aquatic plants. Stone and soil berms were installed inside the arms of the lagoon and log and rock features were placed to further prevent erosion and improve the habitat.
"Strawberry Island is an integral part of Buffalo's waterfront and this restoration of lost wetlands and wildlife habitat adds another important improvement to the ecological health of the city's shoreline and the entire upper Niagara River," said John Koelmel, chairman, NYPA's Board of Trustees, and Buffalo resident. "The New York Power Authority, which pledged these improvements as part of a long-term commitment to give back to the community, continually places a high priority on protecting our region's natural habitat."
"The New York Power Authority funded and carried out this important work to restore a valuable aquatic habitat that contributes to the renewal of the Niagara River," said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA's CEO and president. "Our joint efforts with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and community stakeholders aimed to provide the right conditions to support and sustain plant growth that would be attractive to fish and wildlife. The result is a balanced ecosystem that will have a long-lasting positive impact on this area of the Niagara River and surrounding communities."
"Strawberry Island is the ecological heart of the Niagara River and these restoration projects enhance critical habitat for a wide variety of fish and wildlife species that depend on this incredible area," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "I commend NYPA for working with DEC staff and local stakeholders to undertake these important projects and look forward to watching the continued restoration of the area and economic benefits it will bring."
State Senator Chris Jacobs said, "I am very pleased that this vitally important restoration work along Buffalo's shoreline has been completed. The upper Niagara River, and Strawberry Island in particular, hold great recreational and economic potential, and these habitat improvements will ensure that we remain environmentally responsible as we pursue both in the years ahead."
Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, "The restoration of these habitats along the Niagara River will help to protect and foster the growth of many important species of wildlife. A thriving and healthy Niagara River ecosystem is critically important for the future of the blue economy. I thank NYPA for prioritizing this exciting project."
The project to improve Strawberry Island is an important part of the Governor's overall vision to restore the economic vitality of the region and enhance Niagara Falls, the Niagara River and all of Western New York.
As part of the state's overall efforts to protect the regional environment, the Governor made the following commitments in this year's budget:
- Record Environmental Protection Fund, $300 million: The highest level of funding in the program's history, the statewide investment includes $41 million for solid waste programs, $86 million for parks and recreation, $154 million for open space programs and $19 million for the climate change mitigation and adaptation program.
- Niagara Gorge Corridor: Reclaim 135 acres of the Niagara Gorge Corridor to preserve the largest expansion of green space since the late 19th century.
- Ecological Restoration: Invest up to $1 million in the Niagara Gorge Corridor to complete an ecological restoration that will support the sustainability of the gorge for generations to come.
Additionally, the Governor announced in June, 2016 a $17 million investment to improve, restore and enhance the natural beauty of the historic Niagara Falls State Park, bringing the total state investment to $70 million at Niagara Falls State Park.
The Governor is also investing in efforts to reconnect the community to the waterfront by reconfiguring the former Robert Moses Parkway, now named the Niagara Scenic Parkway. As part of this ongoing Parkway project, open space, scenic overlooks and recreational trails are being development to make the waterfront more accessible to residents, tourists and visitors. The project also links the Niagara River Gorge and Falls into a single destination to allow easier access to the water's edge.
Highlights of the Buffalo Billion II initiative and other transformative investments in Western New York included in the State Budget can be found here.