Buffalo River cleanup begins

Daniel Robison
August 20, 2012

Daniel Robison, BUFFALO

In the late 1960's, the Buffalo River was so polluted it caught fire. For more than a century, the urban waterway was a waste dump by Buffalo's industrial base. Now, a $50 million cleanup is in the midst of scooping out the river's bottom -- still contaminated with countless chemicals. The ambitious project is now sparking hope for Buffalo's efforts to revive its dormant downtown.

"... it didn’t really get much national attention because that was just the way things were back in the day,” says Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, an environmental advocacy group.

“People expected polluted rivers. It was just the cost of doing business at the time.”


“Everybody says, ‘Why can’t the industries clean it up? Well, there’s no industries left,’” says Jedlicka. “Companies made their fortunes and then they cut and run. And they’ve left us with this environmental legacy.”

This decades-long negligence resulted in the waterway becoming known as an “orphaned river” – the public and private sector were unwilling to be parents to this troubled waterway. While the City of Buffalo owns the bottom of the river, the water is public. But before the legislation, such as the Clean Water Act, private industry used public lakes and rivers at its discretion.
“Everybody says, ‘Why can’t the industries clean it up? Well, there’s no industries left,’” says Jedlicka. “Companies made their fortunes and then they cut and run. And they’ve left us with this environmental legacy.”

This decades-long negligence resulted in the waterway becoming known as an “orphaned river” – the public and private sector were unwilling to be parents to this troubled waterway. While the City of Buffalo owns the bottom of the river, the water is public. But before the legislation, such as the Clean Water Act, private industry used public lakes and rivers at its discretion.

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