BY JOE OLENICK AND BILL WOLCOTT
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — It’s difficult to say how many there are. But when it comes to the seagulls that have inhabited the former Lockport Mall site, one thing is for certain — they are not popular around town.
The ring-billed gulls have once again inhabited the South Transit Road property that will one day be home to the Town of Lockport’s Walmart Supercenter, once construction gets going.
But the project has stalled, first because of legal challenges, recently because of the gulls. The birds have interfered with the construction process twice before, last summer and in 2011 during the mall demolition. Walmart did not take any action before the last two nesting seasons, which runs from the end of March until August.
In both situations, the seagulls were nesting on the grounds and — being a federally protected species — seagulls cannot be forcibly removed during nesting season, which led to the halting of the Walmart construction. The retail giant did not want to move forward until the birds were gone.
To most who shop at the nearby Bon-Ton department store, or visit any of the restaurants or the First Niagara Bank branch in front of the mall site, the gulls are just annoying.
“To hell with the birds,” said Al Nerber of Lockport. “This should have been put up two years ago. They’re just a nuisance. They’re just a fecal bird. All they do is poo.”
Walmart had Buffalo Exterminating out on the mall site in March, getting rid of any nesting materials and encouraging the birds to leave. The retail giant believes construction will finally begin soon.
“We’re hopeful that we can move ahead with bidding and construction of our new Lockport Supercenter within the next several months,” said Bill Wertz, Walmart spokesman. “We are in the process of finalizing our plans and it looks as if the steps we have taken to discourage seagulls from nesting on the site have been effective.”
Donna Beshaw, who was in Lockport shopping earlier this month at Bon-Ton with her granddaughter Kiarra, that’s probably good news.
“It’s a shame. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Beshaw said. “... It doesn’t appear that they are too endangered to me.”
Added Kiarra, 11, “They’re annoying.”
But the gulls pose no health risk, said Tom Kerr of the Buffalo Audubon Society.
Typically, the Western New York area is a major congregation spot and a good habitat for seagulls, Kerr said. Gulls nest in open areas, usually in a colony of other gulls for safety and protection from predators like foxes. It helps when they have a large colony and a stable food source.
“And birds are stubborn too,” Kerr said. “If they find a spot, they’ll do whatever they can to stay.” But, gulls usually nest once and then leave the spot after the baby gulls leave. There’s a limit to what can be done to get seagulls to leave a spot, since they are federally protected. Kerr suggested using border collies as encouragement for the gulls to leave, as the dogs act similar to foxes.
Border collies are being used to help encourage the gulls to leave, town Supervisor Marc R. Smith said.
“The latest we’ve heard from the gentleman with the border collies out there, is that they’re making progress and there are considerably less (seagulls) than there were in the past,” Smith said.
Businesses nearby should be happy with that update, although they haven’t complained to the town, Smith said.
The Walmart project has seen a number of holdups over the past few years. Prior to the seagulls, the project was tied up in a number of court battles. All of the court cases were thrown out in 2010. One last suit by Clean Water Advocates was thrown out in October 2012. Site work was done in October, as was soil remediation.
Lockport’s 185,209 square-foot center will replace the current Walmart, located less than half a mile south of the mall on South Transit Road. There are about 200 people working at the current Walmart.
Town officials have said they have interested parties in the would-be vacant Walmart building. But things cannot progress until Walmart has moved.
Walmart bought the former Lockport Mall site in a deal that closed Dec. 23 of 2010. The retailer bought the South Transit property for $3.95 million from General Growth Properties of Chicago.