USACE awards contract for Unity Island Aquatic and Riparian Invasive Species Management and Habitat Restoration Project

Buffalo, NY – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District awarded a $1.39 million contract, September 30, 2015 to Tidewater Inc. of Elkridge, Maryland in support of the Unity Island Aquatic and Riparian Invasive Species Management and Habitat Restoration Project for the removal of aquatic invasive species (AIS) from Unity Island, Buffalo, New York.

As part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), the Unity Island project will be a demonstration project conducted in coordination with the city of Buffalo and the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center. Methods used to control AIS will be monitored for a period of three years, before potentially being employed throughout the Great Lakes in coastal wetland environments similar to Unity Island.

The goal of this demonstration is to evaluate the efficacy of a number of invasive species removal methodologies. In particular we aim to test a hydraulic control method that could assist in combating invasive species and promoting native species succession. The hydraulic control method would allow for a unique passive approach to aquatic plant control. Combined with both mechanical and chemical/herbicide, the hydraulic control method may lead to significantly more efficient application protocols. Lastly, the project aims to promote the natural succession processes by selectively creating space for native species in submerged and emergent habitats.

"Unity Island is a treasure in WNY, featuring trails, excellent fishing locations, and access to the water," said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. "As we continue to develop the waterfront, it is vital that we protect our greatest resource - Lake Erie - from invasive species and ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy this beautiful spot for years to come."

"With this federal investment we continue the progress of promoting cleaner and healthier waterways in Western New York and test removal methods of invasive species which could serve as a model for other communities throughout the Great Lakes region," said U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins, a member of the Congressional Great Lakes Task Force.

"We care about the health and well-being of Buffalo residents as well as the city's many waterways and wildlife," said City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. "The proposed invasive species removal and establishment of native shoreline plantings will not only create habitat for fish and birds, but will also allow for better flow of water through the system. I thank the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District for this investment and look forward to partnering with them to further improve the overall condition of Unity Island Park."

“The Unity Island AIS project has been developed as part of the efforts associated with the delisting of Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) and to support ecosystem restoration projects where invasive species are of significant concern,” said Ken Podsiadlo, USACE Buffalo District project manager. “This project implements AIS control and management, constructs habitat restoration, and expands passage for fish and other aquatic species between the Niagara River and the inland waters of Unity Island.”

The project includes, implementing AIS control and management, introducing container-grown woody, shrub, and herbaceous native plant species, planting in-water submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), installing in-water fish attraction structures, planting in-channel SAV and installing fish attraction structures, and expand riparian and wetland buffers. A pump station for water circulation will be installed between the North Pond to the South Pond and then downstream from the South Pond, through the watercourse, and into Middle Pond. Culverts will be replaced and redesigned between North and Middle ponds and within the watercourse for improved hydraulics and fish passage ultimately creating conditions for low-flow fish passage.

Invasive species targeted for removal include common reed (Phragmites australis), mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), and eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum).


Poloncarz Appoints Members of Poverty Committee

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz announces the formation of the Poverty Committee that will advise Erie County government on measures to reduce poverty and its causes. Committee members pictured from L-R: Rev. Frank Cerny, Committee Chair Rev. Kinzer Pointer, Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Dr. Yvonne S. Minor-Ragan, and Marlies Wesolowski. First Deputy Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Social Services Marie Cannon is at right. Not pictured: committee members Anna Falicov, Esq. and Dr. Myron Glick, M.D.

Ribbon Cutting at Domestic Violence Tribute Garden

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz (center) joins Commissioner of Public Advocacy Sawrie Becker (center left) and community partners in cutting the ribbon at the Domestic Violence Tribute Garden in Isle View Park. The Tribute Garden provides a place for peaceful, quiet reflection for individuals and families whose lives have been touched by domestic violence.

Restorations to Old Erie County Hall

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, Erie County Legislator Joseph Lorigo, and Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo applaud as the lights come on at Old Erie County Hall

Higgins, Poloncarz & Brown Announce Over $8 Million for Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) was joined by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to announce that the Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board (WIB) has been awarded a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) totaling over $8 million.  The funding, provided through the Health Profession Opportunity Grant program, will help train and place Western New Yorkers in health related jobs. 

“This is a significant investment in Western New York workers seeking valuable employment opportunities in growing medical fields across the region and particularly at the thriving Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus,” said Congressman Higgins, who wrote a letter of support for the grant.  “We commend the Workforce Investment Board for their initiative, collaboration with education and job training leaders like Erie Community College and for the work they do each and every day to promote job opportunity and placement.”

Heather Okoro, Executive Director of the Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board, added, “We are thrilled to continue a successful HPOG collaboration that prepares individuals for demand driven employment in allied healthcare jobs offering advancement opportunities and career ladders.”

The Health Profession Opportunity Grant (HPOG) program is administered through the HHS Office of Family Assistance and authorized by the Affordable Care Act.  The program serves the dual need of providing education and employment training to low income individuals and helping to fill labor shortages in high demand occupations.  

“As the health care field expands here in Erie County, it is important to provide a work force that is skilled and ready to handle the positions that will be in demand,” said County Executive Mark Poloncarz.  Thanks to Congressman Higgins and this $8 million grant, the WIB will now be able to train and educate more residents for positions at the growing Buffalo Niagara medical campus or at other local healthcare facilities searching for qualified workers. Skill sets of all types will be in demand, and with this grant we are strengthening our workforce, diversifying our economy, and building a better Erie county.”

“Training the next generation of healthcare workers will not only strengthen the delivery of medical services in Buffalo, but also translates to high-skilled workers contributing to the local economy for years to come,” said City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.  “I thank Congressman Brian Higgins for helping to secure this significant $8 million investment as we work together and in partnership with the Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board to create even more opportunity for city residents and others who seek valuable employment opportunities in Buffalo.”

The Buffalo & Erie County WIB intends to work with Erie 1 BOCES, Erie 2 BOCES and Erie Community College to facilitate training in fields ranging from: Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and pharmacy technician to medical secretary and certified nursing assistant/home health aide (CNA/HHA). 

“ECC strives to continue as a local leader in both classroom-to-career programs and job training,” said Jack Quinn, President of Erie Community College. “We’re continuously focused on finding ways to support both businesses and workers striving to move our Western New York economy forward. This federal grant will certainly aid us in this mission, and we applaud the tireless efforts of our local representatives and the Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board.”   

The Workforce Investment Board will receive $1,600,885 annually for a 5-year period ending September of 2020.  Through a previous HPOG award WIB has been able to train more than 1,200 Western New Yorkers in demand driven health occupations. 

Established by Congress through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Workforce Investment Boards assist job seekers and businesses in search of qualified applicants through a vast array of services.  Members of the private sector driven board are appointed by the County Executive and Mayor.  For more information on the Buffalo & Erie County Workforce Investment Board visit: .   


Higgins’ Bill Requiring A Threat Assessment of Hazardous Materials Crossing the Border Is Approved In Committee

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The House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security approved H.R. 3350, a bill introduced by Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) which requires a terrorism threat assessment on the transport of chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological materials across land borders and within the United States. 

The legislation comes in response to a plan by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to begin the transport of highly-enriched liquid uranium from Chalk River, Ontario to the Department of Energy’s Savannah Energy River Site in Aiken, South Carolina via the Peace Bridge in 2016.

In his testimony before the Committee, Higgins said, “The Department of Energy is relying on an analysis of this route that is outdated and does not reflect the threats we face today.  An attack on one of these trucks would have obvious and devastating consequences.”

Higgins pointed out that an attack, or even an accident involving one of these trucks, would have catastrophic consequences. The Peace Bridge is the busiest passenger crossing on the northern border and the second busiest cargo port of entry with our closest trading partner. Its strategic economic value makes it an inviting target.  In addition, the Peace Bridge traverses the Niagara River, which feeds Niagara Falls and connects two of the Great Lakes, which contain 95% of the surface fresh water in the United States.

Higgins, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, began his push for a full review of the plan in 2014 and earlier this year won approval of an amendment requiring a risk assessment.  This stand-alone legislation strengthens and expands the requirement for the threat assessment to be completed within 90 days of enactment of the act.  The bill also requires that the results of the study are shared with federal, state and local partners including the National Network of Fusion Centers.  


In a Victory For Veterans, Higgins Announces Kids Korner at the Buffalo VA Will Remain Open

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced the House of Representatives has approved legislation which will allow the Kids Korner program at the Buffalo VA Medical Center to remain open.  The program, which provides child care services while veterans attend medical appointments, was set to expire at the end of this year.  Higgins fought to include extension of the program in the VA authorization bill. 

“We should be removing obstacles to care and services for our veterans, not creating them,” said Congressman Higgins.  “Continuation of the Kids Korner child care program addresses one of the primary challenges veterans face when making and keeping critical health care appointments.  We are pleased to see this valuable program continue for veterans in Western New York.”  

“This service has been a great asset for Veterans who are parents or grandparents assisting them while they get their health care,” said Brian G. Stiller, VA Western New York Health Care medical center director. “Children enjoy being there too!”

Kids Korner opened at the Buffalo VA in 2011 as one of three pilot projects nationwide to provide child care services to veterans.  Originally set to expire in September of 2013, Higgins fought to extend the program in 2013 and again last year. 

Specifically, S. 2082, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2015, reauthorizes through December 31, 2016, the pilot project that provides child care for veterans receiving health care.  The bill provides $1.5 million to support the program through 2016.  The bill has already passed in the Senate and will now go to the President for his signature.

Congressman Higgins spoke about the issue on House Floor.

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The text of Congressman Higgins remarks are below:

“Mr. Speaker:  A Department of Veterans Affairs survey found that over 10 percent of our veterans had to cancel VA medical appointments due to a lack of child care.

“Today the House will consider H.R. 3596, which will extend the VA Child Care pilot program that is scheduled to expire this year.

“This initiative has been a tremendous success in Western New York. Last year more than 1,300 children visited Kids Korner at the Buffalo VA Medical Center, helping hundreds of veterans keep their appointments.

“The program has been especially useful in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which requires regular counseling and recurring follow-up appointments.

“While I am grateful that Kids Korner will be extended for another year, Congress should do more. I urge my colleagues to support legislation introduced by Congresswoman Julia Brownley to make the program permanent and allow VA hospitals across the country to establish similar programs for the veterans that they serve.

“Making child care available to patients who need it is a cost-effective way to improve health outcomes for the veterans to whom we owe so much.”

Congressman Higgins is also sponsoring legislation, H.R. 1496 and H.R. 1948, which would allow the WNY VA to keep the Kids Korner program in operation permanently.