State and county officials cautioned the public Monday not to swim at the planned new state park at Gallagher Beach in South Buffalo until the Erie County Health Department finishes testing the water to be sure it’s safe.
Both County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Empire State Development Corp. Regional President Sam Hoyt warned that, while initial indications show that the water is likely fine, there are still some concerns about occasionally higher levels of bacteria and heavy metals in the water.
“Until we do further study, this is not a swimming beach as of yet,” Poloncarz said, speaking with Hoyt at the monthly board meeting for the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.
He said the county performs water testing at various beaches across the community, including at Gallagher last year as part of a larger study of the sand to see if it would withstand erosion by the waters of Lake Erie. On occasion, he said, officials have “found bacterial testing to be high, as we do often at all beaches.”
But of more concern is the beach’s proximity to former industrial sites, which means more likelihood of pollution, Poloncarz said. And in fact, tests have “also found things in the water that are generally heavy metals left over in the seabed from the years of industry that we don’t find at the other beaches because they’re not as close,” he added.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced the transfer and takeover of Gallagher Beach, along with the Small Boat Harbor, from the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
As part of that takeover, which officials said is expected to be completed by year’s end, both the marina and the beach will become part of the first state park within Buffalo’s city limits.
Hoyt credited the plan for Gallagher to Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown’s insistence on having a public beach with swimming as part of the park, but noted that more work must still be done to see “what would ultimately be needed to turn this into a swimming beach.” That includes both the water and sand tests.
“Our goal is to have this beach up and running, possibly by next summer, if not certainly by the summer following,” Hoyt said.