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Niagara Relicensing Agreements Include $12 Million for Habitat Improvement Projects in Erie County

Connie Cullen                           
(914) 390-8196

September 30, 2005


LEWISTON—Various fish and wildlife areas along the upper Niagara River corridor in Erie County will be restored and enhanced by wetland and aquatic-habitat improvement projects once the New York Power Authority (NYPA) receives a new 50-year license for its Niagara Power Project here.

NYPA announced this week that agreements with interested parties involved with an alternative licensing approach for the 2,400,000-kilowatt hydroelectric project include $12 million in NYPA funding for eight Habitat Improvement Projects (HIPs) in Erie County.

The aim of the projects is to address conditions resulting from fluctuating water levels in the Niagara River. The levels are affected by precipitation and other natural influences, as well as power generation on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the Niagara River, and international treaty requirements on water flows over Niagara Falls.

The Power Authority conducted a study on the effects of the variable water levels on aquatic, terrestrial and wildlife resources. The study was undertaken in consultation with various stakeholders, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the U.S. Department of the Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service), Friends of Buffalo-Niagara River, and the Niagara River Environmental Coalition.

Based on the findings of the study, NYPA and stakeholders agreed on the construction of eight Erie County HIPs, along the Niagara River, identified as: (1)- Strawberry Island Wetland Restoration; (2)- Frog Island Restoration; (3)- Motor Island Shoreline Protection; (4)- Beaver Island Wetland Restoration; (5)- Control of Invasive Species: Buckhorn and Tifft Marshes; (6)- Osprey Nesting; (7)- Common Tern Nesting; (8)- Installation of Fish Habitat/Attraction Structures.

Details on the planned HIPs follow:

Strawberry Island Restoration: The proposed HIP will create additional complex marsh and high-energy wetland habitats for fish and wildlife, complementing recent habitat enhancements undertaken by the DEC. The improvements will create approximately seven acres of new diverse wetland habitat for fish, wildlife and water birds on the state-owned island. The improvement project includes measures to protect downstream shallow water habitats that may be affected by erosion caused by severe storms. Recreational opportunities, i.e., fishing, hunting and bird watching, will also be enhanced.

Frog Island Restoration: Creation of approximately five acres of diverse habitat conditions at the site of a former island in the Niagara River. The habitat will be created in a high-energy environment consisting of coarse (boulders, cobbles and gravel) and fine (muck, silt, clay and sand) substrate at variable depths that will support fish and wildlife.

Motor Island Shoreline Protection: The HIP will include the establishment of shoreline aquatic habitat and riparian vegetation up to the water’s edge to help stabilize shoreline erosion for the state-owned island, which is managed by the DEC for protection and enhancement of fish and wildlife.

Beaver Island Wetland Restoration: Consists of the removal of fill placed at a former riverine wetland and site grading, and invasive species-control to help restore hemi-marsh and shallow pools to the Beaver Island shoreline. Diverse native vegetation will also be developed, providing food and cover for wildlife.

Control of Invasive Species-Buckhorn/Tifft Marshes: The improvement project will control exotic and invasive plant species, including purple loosestrife and common reed, in Tifft Marsh in Lackawanna and Buckhorn Marsh on Grand Island. These measures will promote growth of diverse wetland vegetation and improve wetland functions.

Osprey Nesting on the Niagara River: The HIP will increase the availability of suitable nesting sites in the Upper Niagara River. Osprey nesting will be improved by installing pole-mounted platforms in wetland areas at or near Buckhorn Weir, Beaver Island State Park, Strawberry Island, Bird Island Pier, and Tifft Farm Nature Preserve.

Common Tern Nesting: In consultation with DEC, the improvement project will create and enhance nesting sites for common tern—a threatened species in New York State—with possible locations at Buffalo Harbor breakwall and Buckhorn Marsh. The work will be facilitated by adding gravel-nesting substrate, removing vegetation, installing gull- or cormorant-exclusion devices, perimeter fencing, and the possible deployment of tern-nesting rafts or barges.

Installation of Fish Habitat/Attraction Structures: Since the bottom of the Niagara River provides limited cover for fish, the HIP will include large-object (boulder) cover in selected areas along the bottom of the upper Niagara River where fish can find shelter from water velocity, and be able to forage. Among the species that will benefit are muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, and largemouth and smallmouth bass.

In August, NYPA submitted a relicensing application for the Niagara Project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and supporting documents that included the agreement on the habitat improvement projects.

The agreement with the state and federal resource agencies and environmental groups for the HIP funding fall under NYPA’s FERC licensing commitments. It’s one of a number of licensing and non-licensing commitments made by NYPA as part of the alternative licensing process, which provided for a greater role for stakeholders during the pre-application phase.

Additional Agreed-upon Funding

Erie County communities also stand to benefit from agreements by NYPA to establish a $16.2 million fund for future HIPs in the Niagara River basin.

The Power Authority is also committed to make annual payments, over the 50-year term of the new license, of $1 million for a Niagara River Greenway Ecological Fund, amounting to $50 million (for projects in both Erie and Niagara Counties) and $3 million for a New York State Parks Greenway Fund to support rehabilitation of parks, recreation and related facilities, amounting to $150 million, (for projects in both Erie and Niagara Counties).

Further Funding Proposal

NYPA’s offer to provide an additional $2 million in annual funding for Niagara River Greenway projects in Erie County is currently being discussed with interested parties.

The Niagara Project—New York State’s largest source of electricity—produced its first commercial power in 1961, and provides some of the least cost electricity in the state, supporting more than 43,000 Western New York jobs, including over 36,000 in Erie County alone. Its current license expires August 2007.