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Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Spierto, Timothy J.
  • Lazazzero, Sarah A.
  • Nelson, Patricia L.
  • et al.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), together with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) and New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), is conducting a riverine wetland restoration project at Strawberry Island. Strawberry Island is located at the divergence of the Tonawanda and Chippawa Channels of the Niagara River, near the City of Buffalo, in western New York. The majority of the funding for the project comes from New York’s 1996 Clean Water / Clean Air Bond Act, which was approved by voters and signed by Governor George E. Pataki. Additional funding was provided by NYSDOT as an in-lieu fee solution to unavoidable impacts to freshwater wetlands. The island, which was once more than 200 acres in size, has been severely impacted by sand and gravel mining as well as natural erosive forces. By 1993 the island had been reduced to less than six acres. Critical water levels, existing bottom topography, weather-related impacts, and recreational and commercial boating along with utilization by fish and wildlife all need to be considered. This paper describes the island history, design, regulatory approval process and construction activities utilized to protect /restore this ecologically sensitive site. Construction was completed in November 2001. Preliminary results suggest that erosion to the island has been halted and a flourishing wetland community is developing. Strawberry Island is located at the divergence of the Tonawanda and Chippawa Channels of the Niagara River near Buffalo, New York. The island was first surveyed in 1814 and found to be approximately 100 acres in size. By 1912, the island had grown to over 200 acres, when dredged materials from the construction of the Erie Canal and Black Rock Lock were placed on the site. From 1926 until 1953, the island was mined for sand and gravel to construct roads and other infrastructure for the growing City of Buffalo. By the time the mining ceased, barely twenty-five acres of the original island remained. Archived maps and aerial photography suggest that portions of the island were once productive riverine wetlands. Since that time, erosion from high-water storm events, ice scour and boat traffic have reduced the island to approximately six acres (Leuchner 1998). In the spring of 1997 both Phase I and II were completed. An aquatic habitat restoration project was completed with funding from the New York State 1996 Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act. Rip-rap breakwaters were constructed, and wetland soil was transported from a nearby freshwater wetland. Additional wetland plants were established to supplement natural revegetation of the wetland areas, totaling three acres. The goal of the Phase III project was to protect Strawberry Island from further erosion, and restore a small portion of wetlands that were once more abundant in the river corridor.

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