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Dredging in the Buffalo River to remove contamination


Due to a century of industrial activity – steel manufacturers, and chemical companies - along its riverbanks, the Buffalo River has become very polluted. The levels of contamination were so high that in 1987, the Buffalo River was designated as ‘’ an area of concern’’ by the International Joint Commission. Due to the chemicals and contamination present in the sediment, dredging the Buffalo River has become a necessity.


 Last August, the US Army Corps of Engineers started a $50 million project to dredge contaminated sediment from the River and to restore aquatic and riparian habitat.

 As part of the project, many steps had to be taken to lead up to the dredging:

-          The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation created a remedial action plan for the River

-          In 2003, the EPA selected Buffalo Niagara River–keeper to coordinate the work involved in implementing the plan

-          Since 2007, Buffalo Niagara River–keeper and its four partners (the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA, The Department of Environmental Conservation, and Honeywell International, Inc., of Morristown, New Jersey) have worked to remediate the Buffalo River in a unique public – private partnership. The five partners together are known as the Buffalo River Restoration partnership.

 Their work enabled them to put forward four main contaminants to be addressed by the dredging:

1. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

2. Polychlorinated biphenyls

3. Lead

4. Mercury


The cleanup of the Buffalo River includes two phases in order to reach the following goals:

 -          Reduce human exposure to contaminated sediment, as well as the exposure of wildlife and aquatic organisms

-          Restore habitat and supporting wildlife

 The first phase is led by the Corps and consists of dredging portions of the navigation channel within the river and the City Ship Canal to a depth of 24 ft., 1 ft. deeper than the Corps normally dredges. This phase aims at helping the Buffalo River be removed as an ‘’area of concern’’.

 The second phase is led by the EPA and includes different actions:

-          Remove contaminated sediments from areas in the river outside of the navigation channel

-          Cap contamination located at the terminus of the City Ship Canal

-          Conduct 6 habitat restoration projects along the riverbanks and within the capped section of the canal

In late August, the dredging operations began hoping to remove 600,000 cu yd of material by clamshell dredging. The method used minimizes the dredged material reentering the water by sending it to a nearby confined disposal facility.


The Corps received increased federal funding to remove even more material than normal. The estimated cost of the dredging associated with the first phase will be approximately $5.9 million. Funding for the project comes from two sources:

-          $4.6 million from the Federal government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which will fund the removal of 450,000 cu yd of material

-          $1.3 million from the Corp’s annual appropriations for routine operation and maintenance dredging which will pay for the removal of the remaining 150,000 cu yd of material.


The project participants expect the river to return to a healthier state as its long term goal. The second phase with the additional dredging will enable them to cap in place the contaminated material located in a 7–acre area at the far end of the City Ship Canal. This phase will include six habitat restoration projects as well and this capped area is expected to become one of these six restoration projects.


If you have any question about dredging, please contact John McAllister at or at (508) 747 - 7900 x 117.

 Information in this article taken from October 2011, article by Jay Landers, published in Civil Engineering News. 


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