Gently sloping banks with attractive vegetation will replace the industrial-scarred shoreline along the Buffalo River that once hosted the Republic Steel and Donner Hanna Coke facilities off South Park Avenue.

Officials from Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper last week unveiled a preliminary design for a habitat restoration project at the future RiverBend Commerce Park. Phase I of the project is expected to break ground early next spring. Plans for the restoration were shared with about 30 residents during a meeting at the Valley Community Center, 93 Leddy St. It encompasses the transformation of about 4,320 linear feet, including about 9.79 acres of shoreline.

“This site was literally wall-to-wall, every inch … a former brownfield hardened shoreline. Nothing natural about it,” said Jill Jedilick, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

“What we’re doing through the tremendous efforts of our partners and the multiple federal funding we have for this project is to reclaim almost a mile and quarter of urban river shoreline. That is almost unheard of in the Great Lakes [community] and, in particular, for the Buffalo River,” Jedilick added.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration for the engineering and design of the project. The project’s technical advisory committee includes members from the Buffalo Urban Development Corp., which owns a majority of the project property and is leading the effort to redevelop the Buffalo RiverBend Commerce Park.

“Riverkeeper has selected a team led by Ecology & Environment Engineering with Bio-Habitats to produce the engineering design of the restoration. They’re currently in progress on the project,” said Matt Mattison of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, who is also project manager for the restoration.

Mattison said plans include invasive species management and the introduction of new vegetation that will provide the type of wildlife habitat and cover that is attractive to local native wildlife species.

“There are some existing cottonwood and willow trees. We want to save those existing trees because they provide great habitat and shade cover over the water,” Mattison said.

“We aren’t just thinking about the birds and the bunnies. We are thinking about the public … So we have proposed viewing platforms,” he added.

Mike Aloi of Ecology & Environment Engineers presented proposed design drawings that depict a 100-foot buffer along the south edge of the river.

“The site is a plateau raised up high above the river, so there is currently no connectivity between the bank of the river and the rest of the site. So our main objective was to connect these two together. So what we’ve proposed is excavating and pulling back those banks, making them more gentle slopes so that both wildlife and people have access to the shoreline from the top,” Aloi said.

Currently, the site is filled with deep slag deposits, including foundry sand mixed with assorted rock rubble.

“So, if you’re a plant, it’s a pretty hostile environment, to say the least,” said Paul Furhmann of Ecology & Environment.