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Buffalo River Habitat Restoration Completed at Katherine Street

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District
Published Jan. 23, 2024
Updated: Jan. 23, 2024
Grasses and flowering plants make up a riverbank meadow vegetation community along the restored shoreline of the Buffalo River near Katherine Street in Buffalo, New York.

Grasses and flowering plants make up the majority of a riverbank meadow vegetation community along the restored shoreline of the Buffalo River near Katherine Street in Buffalo, New York, Aug. 9, 2023. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District completed closeout of the $2.7 million habitat restoration, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. (U.S. Army photo by Jane Clark)

Large, anchored logs and stones protect the shoreline along a restored reach of the Buffalo River near Katherine Street in Buffalo, New York.

Large, anchored logs and stones protect the shoreline and allow aquatic vegetation to establish, while also serving as refuge and cover for fish and other aquatic organisms along a restored reach of the Buffalo River near Katherine Street in Buffalo, New York, Aug. 11, 2022. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District completed closeout of the $2.7 million habitat restoration, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. (U.S. Army photo by Joshua Unghire)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has completed closeout of the habitat restoration along the Buffalo River near Katherine Street.

The $2.7 million project, funded by the EPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, was the final habitat restoration project required to complete management actions before delisting the Buffalo River Area of Concern.

“EPA is delighted to see the Katherine Street habitat restoration project come to completion. This successful project marks the last piece of the puzzle needed on the Buffalo River AOC. Ongoing environmental monitoring in the AOC will measure remediation and restoration progress to ultimately delist the AOC,” said Teresa Seidel, director of the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office.

“The Buffalo River was once a scenic gem of our Western New York waterways, but for decades pollution bogged down and contaminated this ecosystem. Now, we are turning the tide on restoration for the river, and thanks to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and historic $1 billion included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the shoreline and waters along Katherine Street are almost unrecognizable from years ago, with new life from fish swimming to geese flocking to greenery thriving along the water’s edge,” said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “With this piece of the puzzle, the Buffalo River Area of Concern is significantly closer to being delisted, paving the way for a new chapter to begin for this jewel of Western New York. I thank the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers for their hard work on this project and promise I won’t stop fighting to bring federal dollars home to ensure future generations can fully enjoy the natural beauty of the waterways in Buffalo and beyond.”

Congressman Brian Higgins said, “The Katherine Street project marks a major milestone in a 37-year, multimillion-dollar federal commitment to clean up the Buffalo River. Thanks to the longstanding commitment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District and the Environmental Protection Agency, along with community partners like Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, the Buffalo River has transformed from a pollution dumping ground set ablaze to a healthy, natural, recreation destination that contributes to Western New York’s economy and quality of life.”

“DEC applauds the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency for bringing this vital project to completion, which is a shining example of the economic power of environmental cleanup and habitat restoration in the Great Lakes region,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The Katherine Street peninsula restoration efforts will return wildlife and environmental vibrancy to this portion of the Buffalo River shoreline and highlights the importance of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in stimulating public and private partnerships at all levels to achieve environmental and community protection.”

“This project is a prime example of what happens when federal, state, and local agencies collaborate to restore the environment and make a difference in our community,” said Lt. Col. Colby Krug, USACE Buffalo District commander. “We couldn’t have accomplished it without great partners in EPA, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Erie County, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, and the City of Buffalo, and support from our representatives in Congress.”

“Messer is proud to have been involved in this project due to our Buffalo air separation unit’s location on Katherine Street. We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with various agencies and contribute to this project that benefits the local community. As Messer takes over maintenance activities for the project, we are committed to sustaining its long-term, positive environmental impacts,” said Brian Kenney, Executive Vice President of Operations for U.S. and Canada at Messer, a leading supplier of industrial gases and owner of the restored property.


The Buffalo River Area of Concern

The Buffalo River is an Area of Concern designated as part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, where natural habitat has been lost or degraded by development supporting industrial and commercial activities.

Over the decades, much of the shoreline’s natural cover and vegetation have been removed, bank slopes have been altered or eliminated, and aquatic plant beds and wetland ecosystems have been reduced.

Following closeout of the Katherine Street project, environmental monitoring continues, bringing the Buffalo River AOC one step closer to being delisted.

Four remaining Beneficial Use Impairments must be removed before the AOC can be delisted:

  1. Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  2. Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  3. Fish tumors or other deformities
  4. Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems

Once environmental monitoring has shown that the restoration targets for the remaining four BUIs have been met, DEC will initiate the process of formally delisting the AOC.


Katherine Street Project Details

Planning for Katherine Street began in 2017 under the authority of the Economy Act.

A contract for implementation was awarded in May 2019 to Scott Lawn Yard, Inc. of Niagara Falls, and work began that summer.

Structural components of the project were completed in fiscal year 2019, concluding one of 20 habitat restoration projects funded by the GLRI for a total of $22 million. Combined, these projects restored almost 20,000 linear feet of shoreline to a more natural state with gently sloping banks and native aquatic vegetation.

Over the course of more than four years, earthwork, planting, invasive species treatment, and monitoring resulted in 3.6 acres of renewed, healthy, emergent and riparian habitat along 1,860 feet of the river’s northeastern shoreline.

Major steps in the project included:

  • Removal of large swaths of knotweed, a non-native, non-beneficial plant species.
  • Smooth sloping of the once-steep shoreline to slow erosion.
  • Addition of natural structured habitat features, including logs, stone, timber piles, and reef balls to protect the shoreline and create areas for spawning by aquatic species and growth of sub-aquatic plants.
  • Five years of invasive plant species treatment and installation of a barrier trench to prevent invasive plants from returning.
  • Three years of planting:
    • 40 trees from nine different varieties
    • 3,102 individual plants (known as plugs)
    • 4,211 one-gallon bucket shrubs

These activities have successfully restored native habitat, and USACE biologists have found a drastic increase in the richness of native and naturalized species.

Prior to the restoration, the site was dominated by only a few invasive species, including Japanese knotweed and Tree-of-Heaven. Invasive plant species have been drastically reduced to less than 10% in most areas, and plant biodiversity has increased, with 150 native and naturalized species observed in 2023.

The site now consists of three distinct habitat types: aquatic shoreline, riverbank floodplain, and an upland meadow.

  • Along the water, a mix of aquatic plants can grow in previously unvegetated areas, thanks to protection provided by the newly installed locked logs and rock sills.
  • Upslope, the riverbank is now dominated by a mix of native grasses and herbs with patches of shrubs and trees.
  • The highest elevation areas are now an upland meadow.

These habitats provide valuable forage and refuge habitat for insects, fish, mammals, migratory birds, and other aquatic organisms.

Going forward, the established, primarily native plant community is anticipated to transition into a mature forest and shrubland area.

With the project now complete, the EPA will provide a manual for continued maintenance and stewardship of the site to Messer LLC.


Photos of the project available at:


About the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the Great Lakes. The EPA is the lead federal agency for implementing and administering the GLRI and has authority to receive and distribute congressionally appropriated funds to several federal, tribal, state and local entities.

USACE is one of 16 federal agencies involved with implementing the GLRI and delivers on-the-ground restoration projects, providing innovative and economical solutions throughout the Great Lakes basin. USACE uses GLRI funds to plan, design, and construct long-lasting restoration projects in cooperation with non-Federal partners.

From fiscal year 2010-2023, USACE has received $566.5 million of total GLRI funding. The vast majority of GLRI funds obligated by USACE have been used for the planning, design, and construction of projects. USACE also prepares studies and provides technical assistance that support restoration actions by other agencies and organizations.

To date, USACE GLRI work has supported over 5,000 jobs in the construction, engineering and professional services sector.


About the NYSDEC Buffalo River Restoration Project

DEC, EPA, City of Buffalo, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, Honeywell, and USACE are working together in partnership to restore the Buffalo River. More information is available here.


The Buffalo District delivers world class engineering solutions to the Great Lakes Region, the Army and the Nation in order to ensure national security, environmental sustainability, water resource management, and emergency assistance during peace and war.

Avery Schneider
478 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14202
Andrew Kornacki
478 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14202

Release no. 24-009

Chick Lock

Through deeds, not words, we are BUILDING STRONG®