Reclaiming Unity Island

from left, Andrew Rabb of the City of Buffalo,
Lt. Col. Adam Czekanski, U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers Buffalo Division Commander,
and Brian Higgins, U.S. Member of the
House of Representatives (26th New
York district)

On Thursday, I went to Unity Park, in Buffalo, to observe a ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of the ecosystem restoration work performed at the island’s north pond and a Project Partnership Agreement signing ceremony. The project planning signing is a celebration of the start of a project to place dredged sediment into the pond for additional ecosystem enhancements.

Between the years 1938 and late 1990s, Unity Island was the site of an incinerator plant. Restoration of the ecosystem became a priority because of the quantity of invasive species that were present on land and in the water.  

These invasive species included phragmite, mugwort, and purple loosestrife. In the past, Unity Island was an intact, natural environment. After the incineration plant closed, the goal was to create a recreational area in the City of Buffalo.

The speakers were Andrew Rabb, deputy commissioner for the City of Buffalo’s Division of Parks and Recreation; Brian Higgins, who represents Buffalo and neighboring suburbs in the U.S. House of Representatives; and Lt. Col. Adam Czekanski, U.S Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo Division Commander.

Mr. Rabb mentioned the removal of invasive species from the Black Rock Canal.

Lt. Col. Czekanski mentioned the two missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: to facilitate navigation and ecosystem restoration.

He said that material that was dredged from the Buffalo River will be used for additional ecosystem enhancements. Only clean fill will be brought to the park, Rep. Higgins said. “We’re taking dumped material and reusing it. We won’t use anything that’s been contaminated.” 

Apparently, there has been quite a bit of contaminated material in the Buffalo River. In the past, there was a large amount of heavy industry located on the shores of the Buffalo River. That and sewer overflows resulted in the Buffalo River becoming severely polluted. The Buffalo River Restoration Project began in 2012 and a good deal of work has been done to remove the Buffalo River from a list of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. 

The contamination was massive. Rep. Higgins talked about the removal of 67,000 truckloads of contaminated sediment from the Buffalo River. “We’re making major progress.” He added, “You are in the forefront of efforts to revitalize the waterfront.” 

David Schulenberg, of the planning branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that the restoration of the ecosystem will provide many benefits. He said that the pond is currently like a “water desert.” “There is not much opportunity for fish and other species to move between the north pond and the Niagara River.” “We will be planting native species to improve the ecological diversity of the pond. A weir will be constructed between the pond and the Niagara River to provide a hydrologic and ecological connection.”

Lt. Colonel Czakanski said of the non-contaminated dredged material that will be used as fill to create the wetlands: “Human health and safety are high priorities. We are look at it as an asset and not as waste.”

3 thoughts on “Reclaiming Unity Island”

  1. I applaud such projects. This reminds me, in a way, of my visit in 2013 to what was once Times Beach, Missouri – it has been turned into a state park. Intresting how both of these projects were done.

  2. Dr. Michael Izard-Carroll


    It was a pleasure having you at the event. Thank you for covering the story. We hope to see you at future events. Maybe I'll see you at Seneca Bluffs on Friday morning? Seneca Bluffs is one of our projects where we have been doing other ecosystem restoration. Erie County is hosting the press event at 10:30am at the park. I'll likely be there taking photos and videos, and some of our staff will be there as well. Hope to see you there!

    Michael Izard-Carroll
    Public Affairs

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