Tonawanda News

August 25, 2013

Gardening with purpose

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — As North Tonawanda prepares to install a state-funded $575,000 rain garden project along Webster Street in September, a volunteer corps made up of local residents and members of the Niagara Riverkeepers Association will be putting the finishing touches on a similar endeavor. 

Rain gardens are used to filter rain runoff before it enters local waterways. The one installed through a $250,000 project on Manhattan Street in the Lumber City, which was completed in 2010, was falling short. 

The project was deemed to have an insufficient amount of flora according to David Conti, of the city’s Planning Commission, who said the plants pull many of the pollutants out of runoff before it enters the Erie Canal. 

That changed on Saturday, when the group began putting in additional plants used in the filtration process and paid for through federal stimulus dollars. 

“The area is probably an acre and a half,” he said, “And this is probably the biggest green infrastructure project in Western New York.”

That sentiment was backed by Richard Tindell, director, of the city’s community development department, who said that more expansive efforts will be undertaken next month to beautify Webster Street, where commercialism has grown in recent years along with the city’s reputation. A reputation that is increasingly linked to its waterways. 

“Green infrastructure is the wave of the future and we’re taking the lead on this,” Tindell said. “Water quality improvements are important and the rain gardens are filtering that storm water out so some of the pollutants are not going to the canal.” 

Mayor Rob Ortt said the beautification aspects on Manhattan Street are also integrally linked to the advancements made downtown as a whole. As the city moves closer to the niche boutique feel that has slowly encroached on Webster and a few surrounding streets, adding trees, plants, lighting and improved walkways are all part of the allure. 

“On the surface you’re thinking it’s just a parking lot,” he said, of the Manhattan Street work. “But we have a lot of people, for instance, who come to the Canal Fest from outside the area and that parking lot was packed. That could be a person’s first impression of North Tonawanda.”

Council President Rich Andres, who represents the Second Ward, said when the Webster Street project begins next month between Sweeney and Goundry streets, the environmental benefits will be coupled with vast beautification improvements, which are partly in response to complaints he’s received from business owners during the last several years. 

“It addresses a couple of concerns the merchants have,” he said. “The flower boxes have outlived their usefulness and we’ve had problems down there with Locust trees because they’re the wrong size. It obviously also addresses some of our problems with the rainfall. When it’s all finished we’ll hopefully have a nice, uniformed streetscape.” 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.