BUFFALO, N.Y. — This week, the White House announced $1 billion of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure law will go toward delisting 22 of the remaining 25 waterways designated as areas of concern in the next five years.
Four of those toxic hotspots, the Buffalo River, the Niagara River, 18 Mile Creek and the Rochester Embayment, are in Western New York.
"Our commitment is to get a good chunk of that right here in Western New York with the help of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper," Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, said.
Higgins said as a member of the House Ways and Means and Budget Committees, he will advocate aggressively to secure that money. The Buffalo River is at the top of the priority list.
"It's about being ready to go and as Jill said, the Buffalo River cleanup project is one of the largest in the entire nation. That's a challenge but it also gives you some leverage to make the argument if you're not going to clean up the biggest problem, you're not going to address the smaller problems," Higgins said.
Decades ago, the Buffalo River caught fire at least four times and a federal agency described it as devoid of oxygen and almost sterile. Now, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper Executive Director Jill Jedlicka said that pollution is nearly gone.
"We want to finish what was started in the Buffalo River,” Jedlicka said. “We are almost there, and we also want to address the ongoing threats in the Niagara River and 18 Mile Creek. We are ready to remove the toxic contamination that has hung over the psyche of our community and risked our health for generations."
Combined with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, the federal government will invest more than $3 billion on the Great Lakes over the next five years. Jedlicka said, on average, the investment returns $3.35 on the dollar, but in the Buffalo region it's been $4.
"We have demonstrated that the cleanups and the restoration operations are directly and indirectly creating jobs, and we know that when the ecology of the waterways and the shorelines come back to life, then the communities and the economies around them will come back to life as well," Jedlicka said.
Ninety-seven million dollars in Great Lakes Restoration funding has already contributed to more than 250 projects in Erie and Niagara County since 2010.