New York Power Authority Efforts to Protect Nesting Waterbird at Buffalo Harbor Recognized by National Hydropower Organization

Michael Saltzman

April 26, 2010

Photo & caption


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Measures undertaken by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) in Buffalo Harbor in support of the nesting and breeding of common tern, a New York State-listed threatened bird species, were recognized Monday by the National Hydropower Association (NHA), which presented NYPA with its 2010 Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters Award (OSAW).  The improvements, occurring in the spring of 2009, led to 550 new nests and the hatching and maturation of more than 1,000 young birds, or fledgling chicks.    

“This national award is a tribute to the efforts of Power Authority licensing specialists, biologists, and other staff members, working closely with state and federal regulatory agencies and Western New York contractors, to provide a stable and secure nesting habitat for an endangered migratory aquatic bird species,” Richard M. Kessel, NYPA president and chief executive officer, said.  “The recognition by the National Hydropower Association is especially resonant coming just after Earth Week, and on the 225th birthday of John James Audubon, the great American naturalist whose name is synonymous with bird and wildlife protection.

"The Power Authority accords the highest priority to protecting the environment in the areas of our generating and transmission facilities around the state,” Kessel continued. “This includes commitments made under the Niagara Power Project’s 2007 federal relicensing, with provisions for eight Habitat Improvement Projects [HIP] on the Niagara River to be completed by 2015.”

"The National Hydropower Association commends the New York Power Authority for its Common Tern Habitat Improvement Project,” Linda Church Ciocci, executive director, NHA, said. “The project stands out for the practical and innovative approach that NYPA and its partners took in bolstering and establishing nesting locations strong enough to withstand harsh weather conditions that have adversely affected the common tern population at Buffalo Harbor.  NYPA is well-deserving of the OSAW award, considering the technical and logistical challenges that it faced.”

"This project has been a tremendous success, contributing to a significant increase last year in the number of common tern nests in the Buffalo Harbor, where the largest Great Lakes colony of the waterbird breed in the springtime,” Connie Adams, senior wildlife biologist, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said. “NYPA worked cooperatively with DEC biologists and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to come up with brilliant solutions to address some of the critical problems terns face with regard to nesting habitat in the harbor.”  

A colony of common tern—more than 3,000 of the low-flying birds—nest during the egg-laying season on concrete breakwaters and other man-made structures at the mouth of Buffalo Harbor, from where they patrol the Niagara River feeding on emerald shiner fish.  Extreme winds and waves coming off of Lake Erie made the nesting habitat marginal at best, with newly hatched chicks vulnerable to falling from the structures and drowning. 

Over the years, the DEC has undertaken temporary measures for increasing the nesting success of the terns on the harbor breakwaters, in the birds’ annual migration from Central and South America. While the endeavors by the environmental agency have been beneficial, a more permanent, less labor-intensive solution was considered necessary for protecting the eggs and newly hatched chicks from the elements, including storms that washed away gravel additions that were created as nesting areas.

The Power Authority worked with a design team of engineers and biologists from several environmental and engineering consulting firms, including Gomez and Sullivan Engineers in the Buffalo area and Riveredge Associates in Massena, for providing 3,400 square feet of improved nesting habitat.  It also engaged another Western New York firm, BIDCO Marine Group of Grand Island, to build the necessary structures. 

The improvements centered on two state-of-the-art nesting beds, involving fixed and mobile installations.  The cost of construction and implementation came to approximately $183,000.
At one location, NYPA enhanced an existing tern nesting area on top of a concrete navigation structure—called a cell—at one of the highest parts of the breakwaters to bring the nesting area above most of the severe weather impacts. At the second location, it modified a barge-like structure to create a nesting habitat, moored to a second breakwater.

At both locations, the Power Authority added tons of pea gravel for a suitable nesting surface and installed perimeter fencing to protect the flightless chicks.  Small shelters were also constructed to protect the chicks from exposure and improve their chances of survival.

NYPA conducted the work within a narrow time frame, from mid-March to early April, around the interval when the ice in Lake Erie breaks up, but before the terns begin to nest. 

The populations of common tern have been in decline since the 1980s along the rivers and Great Lakes shorelines of New York.  Competition with ring-billed gulls for nest sites is another reason for the tern’s decline. 

“We’re extremely happy with the results of the common tern nesting improvements and honored to receive the National Hydropower Association’s outstanding stewards award,” John Suloway, NYPA vice president, Project Development and Licensing, said, at the NHA’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.  “Only one month after the gravel installations were completed at the two locations, there were hundreds of new common tern nests at those sites, accounting for one-third of all of the tern nests recorded in Buffalo Harbor last year. We’re looking forward to continued success this spring and summer in promoting the nesting, breeding and survival of this waterbird in the harbor.”  (See photo of award recipients)

Last year, the Power Authority received the OSAW award for a lake sturgeon spawning beds initiative on the St. Lawrence River.  For further information on the latest awards conferred by the NHA, a nonprofit national association, go to http://www.hydro.org/news/pressreleases.php

As part of its relicensing commitments for the Niagara project, NYPA established a $12 million fund for construction of the eight Habitat Improvement Projects within the Niagara River basin.  It provides another $1 million annually for additional HIPs, to be identified by the Niagara Ecological Standing Committee, comprised of representatives from local groups and state organizations.

NYPA also pledged to contribute a total of $450 million over the Niagara project’s 50-year license, in support of the Niagara River Greenway, which stretches from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. This includes measures for bringing about the development of interconnected parks, river access points and waterfront trails. 

About NYPA:

■ The New York Power Authority uses no tax money or state credit. It finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity. ■ NYPA is a leader in promoting energy efficiency, new energy technologies and electric transportation initiatives. ■ It is the nation's largest state public power organization, with 17 generating facilities in various parts of New York State and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. ■ More than 80 percent of the electricity it produces is clean renewable hydropower.  Its lower-cost power production and electricity purchases support hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the state. ■For more information, www.nypa.gov.


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