Weekly Feature



2017-08-10 / Front Page

Assembly speaker tours stretch of Scajaquada during WNY stop

by BRYAN JACKSON Cheektowaga Editor


New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, right, meets on Monday with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Spisiak Jedlicka, left, Assemblywoman Monica Wallace and Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski about funding for Scajaquada Creek improvement, as part of the Bronx representative’s stops in Cheektowaga and Lancaster. New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, right, meets on Monday with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Spisiak Jedlicka, left, Assemblywoman Monica Wallace and Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski about funding for Scajaquada Creek improvement, as part of the Bronx representative’s stops in Cheektowaga and Lancaster. Scajaquada Creek, the blighted waterway that winds its way through Cheektowaga, Lancaster, Depew and Buffalo, has long held the attention of local lawmakers and conservation groups, but Monday, it had a downstate audience: New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, visited the creek at the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and Wildy Avenue, across from Villa Maria College, on Monday morning with Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, D-Cheektowaga, Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Executive Director Jill Spisiak Jedlicka.


Officials get a close-up look at Scajaquada Creek in Cheektowaga. Officials get a close-up look at Scajaquada Creek in Cheektowaga. Spanning that section of the creek are five debris filters, three of which are broken, meaning contamination from that area can flow farther downstream through the underground culvert that carries the creek through much of Buffalo before emerging in Forest Lawn Cemetery on its way to the Niagara River.

Jedlicka, Wallace and Benczkowski briefed Heastie on contamination problems with the creek, which, in Cheektowaga, revolve around sewer deficiencies that can cause overflows of raw sewage into the Scajaquada watershed. The speaker called the issues facing the creek “concerning.”

“Looking at what I see here, it looks like it’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.

Just last week, Wallace, as well as Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, announced that $1 million in the 2017-18 state budget will go toward infrastructure repairs and cleanup efforts to the creek, and Heastie credited local stakeholders with spearheading the conservation effort.

“Because this is a shared responsibility, sometimes you think shared responsibility means it’s more people cooperating, but sometimes when it’s shared responsibility, there’s no single ownership of the responsibility,” he said. “Sometimes it may take a little longer to try to get everybody on the same page.”

Local leaders are heading in that direction, with Benczkowski saying the towns of Cheektowaga and Lancaster, the villages of Depew and Lancaster, Riverkeeper, as well as Wallace and Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Cheektowaga, have continued meeting to develop plans to tackle the creek’s issues. Various sewer districts and state regulators also oversee Scajaquada, further complicating coordination on the cleanup effort.

Funding for projects to boost the watershed’s health is a continuing challenge for all those involved.

In addition to the money secured by Wallace and Ryan for repairs throughout the watershed, last year Cheektowaga received approximately $20 million in state grants and low-to-interest free loans to help the town comply with a 2015 state Department of Environmental Conservation consent order.

The order required the town to modernize and repair its sewage treatment system to mitigate inflow and infiltration problems. Inflow refers to improper connections to the sewer system, such as illegal downspout connections. Infiltration is water that has entered the system through deficiencies, such as cracked and damaged sewers. Overflows caused by those issues can cause raw sewage to flow into Scajaquada’s watershed.

In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, which pledged $2.5 billion toward water improvement and protection in New York.

Heastie said his visit, which also included stops in Lancaster, and, of course, Duff’s, helped him get a better sense of Western New York issues and he hoped it also would dispel the notion that downstate politicians are primarily interested in their own concerns.

“I just wanted to come and let people realize that I care about this area as much as I care about my home area of the Bronx, Heastie said. “I want to make sure every part of the state is thriving, and coming here to see these things for myself, kind of gives you a real visual on the local needs.”

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