Regional chambers of commerce are urging the state to fund proposals to build a breakwater at Olcott Harbor and construct a second roundabout on the Niagara Scenic Parkway.
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership endorsed the projects in its 2019 advocacy agenda, arguing both the breakwater and a roundabout at Hyde Park Boulevard and the parkway would spur economic development in their respective communities.
Niagara USA Chamber Executive Director Kory Schuler agreed with partnership, saying the breakwater could mitigate the flooding and erosion that Olcott experienced in spring and summer 2017, when Lake Ontario reached record-high water levels.
"I think it’s a great idea to help the shoreline, help the residents and businesses along that area," Schuler said.
The Olcott Harbor breakwater was first proposed in the 1960s as part of a much more expansive plan to turn Olcott into a larger harbor, according to Newfane Supervisor Tim Horanburg. Those plans never materialized, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deemed the project didn't meet its feasibility criteria.
Calls for a breakwater shielding Olcott were renewed in 2017, after high waters on Lake Ontario caused flooding and erosion in the hamlet, and rendered many docks unusable for most of the peak summer boating season.
Horanburg said wave action and high water within — rather than outside — the harbor caused the most damage to Olcott's shoreline that year.
“I think (a breakwater) would have solved 90 percent of the problems that we had,” Horanburg said.
Even with relatively normal water levels, Horanburg said, the wave actions interfere with boating at the harbor.
"The water is making it almost impossible to have any docks out because the water is too rough,” Horanburg said.
In April, Newfane was awarded $500,000 in state Lake Ontario relief funding to conduct an engineering and feasibility study on the break-water. The town hired WSP, an international engineering firm with a location in Buffalo, at $448,000.
The initial plans call for a 600-foot breakwater that would shield both the harbor and two, 900-foot-long federal piers, which were submerged under the high water in 2017. The breakwater's length, cost, position and materials will be determined by the study, which is expected to be completed by year's end, Horanburg said.
Local officials hope to secure state funding this year, so that once the study is complete, construction can get underway.
Grant Loomis, vice president of government affairs for the partnership, said mitigating the wave action and flooding in the harbor could be a boon to its boating and fishing industries, which may in turn benefit other Olcott businesses.
"We want to not only maintain the level of commercial activity there but better position the community to increase that economic opportunity,” Loomis said.
Horanburg said he was encouraged by the endorsements. "I think this is the best opportunity we’ve ever had to get a breakwater built here,” he said.
As state crews begin preliminary work on the first phase of the removal of the Niagara Scenic Parkway north of Findlay Drive, city officials hope to secure funding commitments for a roundabout that would connect the remaining section of the parkway to Hyde Park Boulevard via a roundabout.
Mayor Paul Dyster said the benefits of such a roundabout are threefold: alleviating traffic on the parkway, particularly during the summer tourist season; providing greater pedestrian and bicycle access to the waterfront; and better connecting the scenic parkway to the city street-grid.
“There’s a lot of different things we’re trying to accomplish with the project," Dyster said.
Hyde Park Boulevard currently does not connect to the parkway, only to the adjacent Lewiston Road. Dyster said a direct connection between the parkway's northern section and the boulevard could be a boon to nearby businesses.
The partnership's 2019 advocacy agenda also called for:
• Eliminating the Scaffolding Law, which places full liability on employers for construction site accidents if there is any employer negligence at all, without taking into account any negligence on the part of the injured employee.
• Expediting border-crossings, including expanding staffing at the Peace Bridge while its rehabilitation is underway, requiring filing of electronic manifests for trucks crossing the border and requiring prepayment of commercial border crossing fees.
• Investing more heavily in transportation infrastructure to fix deficient roads, highways and bridges.
• Expanding opportunities for workforce development and job-training.