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LEWISTON – A quarter-mile of land bordering the Niagara River soon may become a nature preserve, the first project of that type in Niagara County since the Niagara River Greenway was launched five years ago.

The Western New York Land Conservancy plans a $3.17 million project on 29 acres of land between Lower River Road and the riverbank.

The not-for-profit conservancy has an agreement to buy the property from the Sisters of Stella Niagara, Franciscan nuns whose motherhouse is on the opposite side of the road. The nuns have owned the property since 1907.

“The Sisters of St. Francis approached us because they have an economic need to sell,” said Jajean Rose-Burney, director of development for the conservancy.

This was right in the wheelhouse of the conservancy, whose mission is acquiring land to protect it from development. This land, part of 130 acres owned by the nuns, has been appraised at $2.25 million.

Although the leading nuns were away at a conference last week and unavailable for comment, Rose-Burney said they told his group they preferred the conservancy’s approach to land resources.

“They would prefer it not be developed,” he said. “The tenets of St. Francis have a lot to do with stewardship of nature.”

The 1,474 feet of shoreline, the third-longest privately owned river frontage in Niagara County, would be a prize for homebuilders, and Lower River Road already has more than its share of large, high-priced homes.

“That’s why this is such an opportunity, and an expensive one,” Rose-Burney said.

The sisters’ provincial minister wrote to the Greenway Commission, explaining their desire to keep the land as a preserve.

“To prevent this important Niagara River land from being lost to development, and in keeping with our belief that the beauty of this land should be shared with others, we have asked the Land Conservancy to help us create the Stella Niagara Preserve,” Sister Edith Wyss wrote.

The Niagara River is home to a large number of rare birds, animals and plants, the application said. Also, the nuns’ land is a historic site, because during the War of 1812, British troops landed there in December 1813 to march on Fort Niagara.

The Niagara River Greenway Commission voted last week that the project was consistent with Greenway goals. The next step is for the conservancy to go before the committee governing the Greenway’s ecological fund.

“When they tell us what they’ll give us, we’ll figure out where to get the rest,” Rose-Burney said.

The plan has been endorsed by Lewiston Supervisor Steven L. Reiter, who said it matches the riverfront goals of the town’s comprehensive plan.

Also last week, the Greenway Commission endorsed State Parks’ plans for a $5.3 million makeover of Big Six Mile Creek Marina on the western shore of Grand Island.

“It’s reached its useful life,” said Mark W. Thomas, Western District director for the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “Everything about the infrastructure needs to be replaced.”

The marina, begun in the late 1950s, will be improved in two phases, starting later this year, after the boating season.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com