Gallagher Beach along South Buffalo’s outer harbor is undergoing testing of its water, soil and sediment before its possible opening to the public for swimming in 2014, according to state and federal officials.
The small beach, nestled in an area of the outer harbor between the Small Boat Harbor and the South End Marina site and across Route 5 from Tifft Nature Preserve, was formerly owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority but will now be operated as a state park under an agreement announced last month by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The notion of opening the beach for swimming next year has sparked concerns because of its location on the outer harbor, areas of which are contaminated with legacy PCBs from the city’s industrial past and its proximity to Superfund sites as well as the nearby U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Confined Disposal Facility, which is accepting toxic sediment from its ongoing dredging of the Buffalo River.
But, according to Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, any anxiety in that vein remains unfounded.
“It is a fair and reasonable conclusion to draw,” Higgins said, “but there is no definitive evidence to suggest Gallagher Beach is contaminated.”
Higgins called the state’s testing at the beach “routine” in advance of opening Gallagher as a possible swimming beach.
“Under no circumstances would we want Gallagher Beach to be designated a swimming beach until the requisite testing has been done,” Higgins said. “If and when Gallagher Beach is open to swimming, it will only be after the testing is completed.”
The website Investigative Post reported that the testing to determine the safety of the water, sediment and beach soils is being conducted by the Lancaster firm Ecology & Environment Inc. The internationally recognized environmental consultants will conduct tests up to 10 feet deep to check for possible contamination migration from other areas, according to Sam Hoyt, the former assemblyman who now serves as the regional president of the Empire State Development Corp.
“The governor would like to see this as a swimming beach, but the state will not allow anyone to swim there until we have done all the testing and it’s determined to be safe,” explained Hoyt.
Hoyt said sediments, soil and water, including “anything in and around the beach,” are being tested by Ecology & Environment.
“There is no guarantee there will be a swimming beach,” Hoyt said. “There is a guarantee there will be a comprehensive study. It’s thorough and it’s comprehensive.”
Higgins pointed out that when the beach was updated about a decade ago, there was “no documented evidence” of toxins in the sediment, soil or water column.
Results of the tests are anticipated in early 2014.
If the beach is determined to be clean, Higgins said, it is possible it could be open to swimming as early as next year.
A study that reveals contamination on Gallagher Beach, however, would bring a much different scenario.
Then it wouldn’t be opened for swimming, and officials would need to determine whether a remediation project was warranted that could render the beach safe for future swimming.
“We had a working industrial waterfront for decades,” Higgins said. “Obviously, the transition to a recreation waterfront is very, very challenging, but we’ll get there.”