Niagara Gazette

June 27, 2013

GLYNN: Buffalo Army Corps may shuffle off to Kentucky

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The Buffalo-Niagara area stands to lose a major part of a federal agency that has played a significant role in Western New York for more than 150 years.

A plan in the works to move functions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Buffalo District to Louisville, Ky,, and Detroit would reduce the area operations to field office status, opponents contend. The mere mention of the consolidation has raised vociferous objections from Rep. Brian Higgins, (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) whose congressional districts include Buffalo and Niagara Falls. 

At present, the Buffalo District employs about 280 persons at its main facility and six field offices that cover 38,000 square miles from Massena, N.Y., to Toledo, Ohio. Those district employees plan, design, build and operate water projects to reduce flooding, maintain navigation, protect the shoreline and support water quality efforts. 

Higgins and Collins, in a bipartisan news release earlier this week, noted that the area corps of engineers is currently involved with other entities in overseeing a number of projects in the two lawmakers’ congressional districts that the include Erie and Niagara counties. Among those projects: the $359 million remediation of the former Linde site in Tonawanda; a $1.8 million seawall protection project in Hamburg; a $44 million Buffalo River restoration project; a $10 million remedial action program at Guterl Steel in Lockport.

In their news release, the congressmen questioned whether the proposed move would save million of dollars without cutting service or the workforce. They also point to the Louisville District  as having a history of poor cost management on projects.

Higgins and Collins add: “It is puzzling that the Division of the Army Corps is attempting to improve contracting functions by shifting them all to the Louisville District, which has been responsible for that largest single civil works cost overrun in the history of the Army Corps.”

Higgins said, “When it comes to protecting the safety, health and future of our waterways there is no substitute for having a team of qualified persons on the ground and familiar with the projects. The Great Lakes represents the largest source of fresh water on the planet and are linked to billions of dollars in economic activity. We should be committing more, not less, attention to this vital resource.”

Founded in 1857, the Buffalo District facility in the Black Rock neighborhood — close to the Niagara Section of the Thruway — is known for managing one of the most diverse and fascinating geographical regions in the nation, The district planners and staffers have been challenged for decades with projects ranging from the redesign of Buffalo Harbor, developing a strategy to assure proper administration of hydroelectric resources of the region, and shutting off the American Falls (1969) as part of a $1.5 million study to determine what remedial measures would be necessary to preserve the beauty of the falls. (The Albert Elia Building Co. of Niagara Falls built the cofferdam at the eastern tip of Goat Island, diverting all the water over the Horseshoe Falls or five months.)

Seven years after that study, the International Joint Commission, based on the Corps of Engineers’ surveys and estimates, ruled that the fallen rock below the 180-foot waterfall should not be removed. At the time, the engineers estimated that the 280,000 cubic yards of talus were “a dynamic part of the natural condition of the falls and the process of erosion and recession should not be interrupted.” A corps spokesman then said: “As a comfort to the ‘rock removal enthusiasts’, at the existing rate of erosion, it would take 20 centuries to turn off the American Falls.” In a word, let nature take its course. 

QUICKIE QUIZ: Answer to Sunday’s question: The Imperial and Henry Hubbs hotels were next door to each other on Second Street, near Falls Street, and across from the New York Central Railroad Depot. The site is now part of the Sheraton at the Falls.

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.