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Protecting Lake Erie shoreline from future storms

It may have to involve more than break walls, according to noted Western New York naturalist

BUFFALO, N.Y. — From sections of sidewalk heaved up on roadways, to fences torn from their anchors and tossed asunder by the hurricane-force winds which drove ice and water over the Lake Erie shore during the Blizzard of 2022, the damage from the storm is evident along many sections of Buffalo's waterfront.

One area that sustained incredible damage was the Times Beach Nature Preserve.

Located along Fuhrmann Boulevard near the U.S. Coast Guard station on the Outer Harbor, numerous large trees were felled by strong winds as water from a seiche slammed into the area.

"We've got to figure out how to fix it," said Jay Burney, a naturalist, and co-founder of the Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve.

The preserve has been protected by a break wall. 

However, the break wall was heavily damaged during a storm in 2019 and was likely damaged further in the latest one.

Buffalo's waterfront has been protected for centuries by broken walls.

"I think that the break walls are an important part of how we protect our harbor, but I don't know if they are the best solution and that they are done the most perfectly," said Burney.  "I think we have some concerns about how the Army Corps of Engineers develops and designs break walls...they are engineers but they aren't naturalists and they don't look at this world as to how can we provide natural barriers. They look at how we can provide engineered barriers."

Burney believes more natural barriers may hold the key and suggests, where possible, we go back to the future.

"Back in time, there was a great cattail sand marsh, with sand dunes from the cliffs of Hamburg all the way out to past Grand Island. It's been developed over time, and the shorelines have been hardened," he said. "That natural barrier, which was like a sponge, used to absorb all the water and wind and storms. We don't have that anymore. So, one thing we can do is naturalize the shoreline to make them more protective and resilient."

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