President Trump delivered some comforting news to Western New Yorkers last week, telling Buffalo News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski that no funding for building a wall at the U.S. southern border would be diverted from local flood control projects here.
There is $20.7 million in federal spending at stake for the Buffalo area. Breakwater repairs and dredging for the Buffalo Harbor, a new seawall along Lake Erie in Athol Springs and a shoreline protection project at LaSalle Park are major projects included in the funding.
The president has been known to change his mind, but we will take him at his word. To lose these projects would be a gut punch to Western New York.
The wildly fluctuating temperatures of the last two weeks brought flooding to many corners of the region, a stark reminder of the damage water can do. The projects planned by the Army Corps of Engineers are important to our region’s well-being.
There is $12.45 million ticketed for Buffalo Harbor projects, including dredging. The Army Corps said in a 2017 study that without dredging, which happens every two years, the harbor’s navigation channel would be compromised and it might have to be shut down to commercial traffic. That would be a major disruption to shipping here.
The harbor’s north breakwater protects the Erie Basin Marina, while the south breakwater defends the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor. The Army Corps says that breakwater failure would mean the loss of the Outer Harbor.
In addition, $3.7 million is designated to rebuild a 1,300-foot stretch of seawall at LaSalle Park, which has been worn away by Lake Erie ice and waves. That might sound like a routine chore, but it comes with high stakes. The seawall fronts the Colonel F.G. Ward Pumping Station, which the Army Corps says “is essential because it is the primary source of drinking water for the City of Buffalo residents.”
Another project at stake is repairs of the failing Lake Erie seawall at Athol Springs in Hamburg, where waves crash onto Route 5.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., last September stopped in Hamburg and pointed out the necessity of shoring up the seawall to protect Route 5, “a vital link between Buffalo and the Southtowns.”
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, remains skeptical about Trump’s vow that Western New York would keep the designated funding for flood control. Army Corps officials told Higgins’ office in January that any pending Army Corps construction or maintenance projects could lose funding if Trump makes an emergency declaration to get wall funding.
Another partial government shutdown could take place Friday unless Trump and Congress agree on a longer-term funding bill. Both sides are in a stalemate over whether the funding will include money for a border wall.
Declaring a national emergency in order to trigger funding for a wall is a cudgel with which Trump has threatened Congress, but lately seems disinclined to use.
It would be unfortunate for Western New York if these worthy infrastructure projects involving walls of a different sort – to hold back damaging waters – were sacrificed for the sake of a wall that most Americans do not want.
Trump said in his Oval Office interview last week that he “loves” upstate residents. Helping to protect the area’s waterfront interests will be a good way to show that.