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GW Science Sunday: Loons on the Outer Harbor

by / Apr. 10, 2016 11am EST

Update Monday 11 April 2016: Outer Harbor Concerned Citizens have created a petition to ask the Buffalo Common Council to postpone adoption of the Buffalo Green Code for at least four months so that people can better understand the implications of Outer Harbor Development including the proposed Zoning Codes which may allow condo’s adjacent to Times Beach Nature Preserve. This postponment will also support other citizen based initiatives that are asking for more time to review the complex documents that will help to determine the future evelopment of our CityPlease consider signing the Petition Here


Birdophilia Report: Common Loons

This past week has seen an uptick of migrating Common Loons on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. This species is now moving from it’s winter range which reaches all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, north, to wooded lakes and Tundra ponds.

On Saturday April 9 this writer observed at least 20 of this beautiful, iconic and increasingly rare diving birds during a less than half hour tour from Times Beach Nature Preserve to Gallagher Beach. This black and white “tuxedo wearing” bird can dive up to 200 feet and remain submerged for up to 3 minutes. Its spectacular red eyes help it to hunt underwater where it searches for fish such as shad, perch, and sunfish.

On Saturday, many Common Loons were congregated in the Small Boat Harbor with several hanging and foraging with grebes, Common and Red-breasted Mergansers, Green-winged Teal, Buffleheads, Coots, Wood Ducks, and Canada Geese. We even saw a Black-crowned Night Heron wandering along the shoreline. We are really lucky in this region to be able to observe such a wide variety of species of birds throughout the year. So many of these precious and fragile birds depend upon our shorelines and waters for migration. The Common Loon is an iconic bird of the north woods with its lonely moaning hoots, wails, and yodels, which once helped to characterize the wild north of yesteryear.

That is changing quickly. Climate change and habitat destruction is pushing this species to the brink. Audubon’s pivotal 2014 Bird and Climate report “314 Species on the Brink” lists this bird as at risk. The report shows that the Common Loon will probably loose 56% of its current summer range and 75% of its current winter range by 2080.

Our waterfront and our Lakes are areas at great risk that this magnificent bird and many species on the Audubon List depend upon. Birds, and especially migrating birds are great generators of biodiversity and their destruction more than imperils our capacity to live on this planet. Get out today and for the next few days and take a look at the Common Loons. It is a vanishing experience that you may remember for the rest of your life. You will probably find them in many spots along the Outer Harbor and along the Niagara River shorelines.


Sunday Morning Television: Loons on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor


Hemophilia Report: The Uncommon Loons, or trying not to bleed out.

Obstructionist developer Gerry Buchheit is continuing to make headlines with his straw dog proposal to develop a 23 story glass tower on the Outer Harbor at the Freezer Queen site adjacent to the Small Boat Harbor. The controversial speculator and developer who once owned the Statler Towers and nearly brought the building on Niagara Square to its knees, including decade long property tax debts.  He and his surrogate clown posse have been making noise about this new scheme for a couple of weeks now. On Monday April 4 the Buffalo Planning Board held a hastily called Public Hearing on the project. Public outcry encouraged the Planning Board ”take no action” at this meeting and to host at least one additional public hearing, now scheduled for April 18. In addition, the Buffalo Preservation Board is hosting a Public Hearing on the demolition request for the Freezer Queen Site on April 14. Seems like our Industrial Heritage righteously requires attention!

The knowlegeable public pressure and lack of quick decisionmaking by the Planning Board must have taken Buchheit and his team surprise.  Two days after the Planning Board meeting, on April 6, the DEC Enviromental Notices Bulletin published a notice that Queen City Landing, -a Buchheit development company, had submitted a brownfield clean-up application for the Freezer Queen site.  This was not a topic at the Planning Board meeting. The application was not known by the general public or, we want to believe, the press.  If it were it might have put a bit of a dent in the “$60 million in private investment” branding which leads every story. It appears that they will need taxpayer dollars. Lots of taxpayer dollars.

The Brownfield grants are an important State subsidized program. The Brownfield Cleanup Program was established to help protect the public after polluters abandoned properties and left them in highly contaminated conditions. Our industrial and economic growth legacy has left us  with billions of dollars of clean up costs. Debts for future generations to continue to pay.  Adequate clean up just on Buffalo’s Outer will cost billions, and will only get done with taxpayer, and voter pressure.  The private sector legacy that designed our economic history allowed the abandoning of waste, highly toxic chemicals and worse, at hundreds of sites on the Outer Harbor by the industrial leaders that created profit.  This legacy continues to choke our economy. It crushes our economy like a lead rock or a white brick to the head.

Besides the need to directly clean or contain the poisons, human and wildlife exposure to highly contaminated sites raise the additional costs of this legacy.  Humans pay social costs including health and wellness costs, social and enviornmental justice costs that marginalize poor neighborhoods, and the social costs of poisoned children. This reaches into every sector of our society- welfare, education, jobs, food, quality of life. We will all pay for this from now until the end of time. So it is a good thing that we have a Brownfield Clean Up Program. It is too bad that the taxpayer, not the polluter, has to pay the bills.

The public grant that Buchheit is seeking would substantially pay for clean-up standards New York State and the legal system will set for the site. But lets be clear.  This is not just a $60 million private investment project.  We are all investing. You will pay quite a lot for this cleanup work. It is probably important to scrutinize how this public money will be spent. Don’t we all agree on that? I thank the individuals that fight for transparency on these issues. I want to know both how our money is spent on these clean-ups, and how effective the clean-ups are.

The clown posse goes way beyond Queen City Landing LLC and its direct representatives. It  includes a spectrum up and down the ladder of a powerful sector of the business political community that is often championed by the Buffalo News. These are the peddlers of influence. It often seems like they promote small-town thinking projects and are trying to bleed us out with smoke and mirrors. What is behind this? Do you not wonder?

The local media, almost on command, champion the 23 story Outer Harbor waterfront glass tower project as a “$60 million private investment.” Its not hard to see through the smoke and mirrors to recognize that this is a project is based on public dollars. Only public dollars will make it work. It may be DOA. Some well placed business insiders are highly skeptical of this project. Buchheit signaled during an interview on WGRZ TV Friday that he may throw in the towel if there is to much public opposition.   Ouch!

Note To Private Investors:This is a very risky project.  Besides the world class contamination issues, has anyone actually spent any time on the Outer Harbor in the winter? There are days where it is completely shut down do to enormous seiches and storms that blow in off from the full length of Lake Erie. This is not Cleveland or Chicago or Toronto.

There are ecological  and critical enviromental issues that go beyond yet uncalculated costs of contamination clean up, and the costs to support human sprawl at that location.   The effects on wildlife, biodiversity, and the very life forces that create the lakes, the waters, and this planet are at a tipping point.

For instance the site lies along a critical migratory pathway for hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife. This is important because natural systems function on biodiversity, and migration is critical to biodiversity. Our region is a globally recognized ecological asset. The Great Lakes, 20% of the earth’s freshwater resources. We are as valuable, if not more so than the Everglades, the Galapagos, Yellowstone, and other internationally recognized areas of environmental significance. All is at risk by inappropriate development.  The Queen City Landing site is adjacent to the Tifft Nature Preserve Important Bird Area. The Outer Harbor is the western gateway to the Niagara River Strait Globally Significant Important Bird Area.  These designations are recognized by local, regional, federal, and international goverments. We recognize that the birds and other wildlife that use them are stressed, threatened or endangered, and are at risk. Ignoring these risks put the quality of life, including economic vitality at risk.  Development is a primary cause of habitat and biodiversity loss. This is why we have tools such as SEQRA, so that we can determine what is inapprpriate development. At the very least transparent and participatory environmental evaluation though SEQRA should be conducted.

This world class asset and the shorelines of our outer harbor should be used to drive a new kind of economy here, an economy that would help us combat issues such as climate change, habitat and biodiversity loss, and clean water conservation. Our economic viability for future generations depends on this.

It is also a very established fact that tall buildings, glass, and lights, are substantial killers of birds.  Many of us are working hard to raise the awareness of the impacts of siting, bad design strategies, and common sense planning. 

Fatal Light Awarness Program

We don’t want to continue to march in the wrong direction, the direction that is causing dramatic failures of human cultures to manage our ability to survive on this earth.


Biophilia Report: The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)

We can do better, and we have unique opportunities to do better. The Buffalo News, which has business reporters that often print only the talking points, is sometimes part of the aforementioned clown posse. Lazy or deliberately advocacy oriented “reporting” is often business as usual. Jonathan Epstein, a business reporter for the News has used his voice to call out local SEQRA experts including Art Giacalone and Community Preservation expert Dan Sack. Espstein has used a lot of precious print space to help spread the characterization of Giacalone as an obstructionist, and Dan as a kumbayah historic preservationist. The truth could not be futher from that ad-hominium characterization. They both have been, and continue to be welcomed as the face and articulate voice of both following the law, and makeing sure that citizen watchdogs remain a fundamental part of the development conversation. Both of these Buffalo based community leaders invest substantial volunteer hours into protecting valuable public assets. Giacalone, an attorney and State Environmental Quality Review Act expert, made substantial comments at the initial Buffalo Planning Board meeting on the project on April 4 and both were referred to in columns by Epstein in characterizations that attempt to impune their credibility. Giacalone was the subject of a fatuous hit piece by Epstein in the Buffalo News on April 8 which followed an exchange between Giacalone and Epstein after the initial column.  The ad-hominium and highly subjective BN articles include attacks making light of wildlife (birds), and preservationist concerns, are completely undignified, and misrepresent the facts. Ridiculing the environment, and trying to deregulate environmental protections is a favorite pastime of the development community and some of the local business press mouthpeices.  These asnine and uninformed pieces also generate a lot of really uninformed comments and opinions from the idiocracy that reads and comments online. 

Art and Dan have not nor will they get wealthy with their mostly economically uncompensated efforts. I say mostly because Art is a practicing SEQRA attorney. However he is not representing any paying clients in this instance.  

The New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) is a tool to promote scrutiny and transparency.  It is a tool that has suffered years of degradation as developers and the legal system continue to obfuscate and undermine its power and authority.

Giacalone’s comments about this glass tower project are substantial, and steeped in important legal contexts that are designed to protect citizens from bad projects.

Gicacalone’s comments indicate that the current zoning for the property, as represented by the Bucheitz possee including the Buffalo News and Epstein, may be incorrectly assumed, false, and misleading. (Not Giacalone’s words, but mine). Mr Giacalone outlined the following in a April 7 Letter to Timothy Ball, City of Buffalo Corporation Counsel:

Dear Mr. Ball:

I am writing to you as a resident of the City of Buffalo concerned about the proposed 23-story tower and facilities at 975 & 1005 Fuhrmann Boulevard presently under review by the City Planning Board.

It is my understanding that the Planning Board has requested input from the Corporation Counsel’s office on several issues that were raised at the April 4, 2016 public hearing regarding Queen City Landing, LLC’s application for site plan/development review: whether the parcel(s) are zoned M3 or CM; whether the parcel lies within the Buffalo Coastal Special Review District; which agency is the proper SEQRA lead agency for the proposed action; and, whether a Positive Declaration should be issued and a Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared.


The full letter is not available online as of publication time, but Giacalone wrote about the issues on his blog “With all Due Respect”, on April 4.


These are all very substantial concerns, asked after substantial research.  It appears that the answers will represent some of the substantial challenges that Queen city Landing LLC, the Buchheit venture proposing the development, will have to meet.

Some of us, -not the Congress for New Urbanism crowd which has invested considerable social capital to support sprawl in the Outer Harbor, want to find ways to recognize our unique and ecologically critical shorelines. We know that we can only and create sustainable wealth for our entire community, including those living in deep poverty, through public access, conservation, and habitat restoration. We think that our more natural, open, and green Outer Harbor is a public resource that champions our uniqueness, recognizes the ecological and economic values, and will sustain present and future generations. We know that we can create green investments that benefit all of us, and that will for instance promote the value of urban properties and businesses that are a part of a community that moves forward with future generations in mind, and not bends over to the will of a few greedy investors that make false promises and head offshore with the profits.


Invest in Conservation Planning

We also know that one of the things we can do is invest in more science. There is a lot that we do not know about the environment and our ecology. For instance, there is a lot that we do not know about bird migration, forces behind habitat destruction, and for instance what kinds of places that we need to save in order protect our planets future.  This is true even on the Outer Harbor and in the Niagrara River Corridor. SEQRA should provide us with the pathways to conduct more better science including promoting both public and private investments in substantial  and transparent scientific research. SEQRA should be doing that instead of encouraging “negative declarations” that are decided upon by developer applications. Can’t we toughen up our legal strategies instead of degrading them to the point that they are easy tools to bypass the best interests of all of us? Why for instance don’t we insist on a detailed conservation plan for the Outer Harbor, one that would identify critical habitat onshore and offshore? Instead we are hell-bent on giving the private sector the keys to our future with little or no scrutiny. How is that working for us?

Hiding Wealth Offshore

Inequality of Wealth

So the straw dog Buchheit and his proxies are profound obstructionists to the notion and reality of creating a sustainable future for Buffalo and our region. These are the forces that say no to SEQRA, public scrutiny, and public discussion, “Not in my Backyard” is the developers mantra about these issues. People like Art Giacalone and Dan Sack work to protect our rights, and our future from hidden agenda designed to pick your pockets.  We want this scrutiny in our Back Yards, and we want to stop the obstructionists from stealing our future. As Art says, “at the very least we want people to follow the laws.”

During an interview with WGRZ after the initial Public Hearing at the Planning Board, Buchheit when asked about some of the objections to his project, laughed about birds, and said in his best Elmer Gantry imitation, “I can just take this project elsewhere”. Hey, good idea. Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.