After a successful summer at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, Congressman Brian Higgins is pushing for expanded access to one of the area’s hidden gems – often overlooked or avoided by visitors.
Sitting at the northern tip of the Outer Harbor is the Buffalo Lighthouse. Built in 1833, it is the city’s oldest structure still standing in its original place. According to Higgins, the park that surrounds it is often overlooked or passed by, because visitors are deterred by security measures at the neighboring Coast Guard station.
“When people are travelling the waterfront and they reach this point, they think it’s the end of it,” said Higgins. “You’ve got force protection barriers here, you’ve got three stop signs, you’ve got stop warning signs.”
Higgins and then-Senator Hillary Clinton secured $6.1 million in 2008 to upgrade and consolidate the Coast Guard station. With completion of the upgrades three years later came the opening of Lighthouse Point, a 4.25 acre park that surrounds the station’s northern fence, including a walkway to the lighthouse.
While the park has actually been open to the public for the past five years, signs forbid the riding of bikes inside its gates – something Higgins called, “unacceptable.”
“A lot of the people who are enjoying the Buffalo waterfront are traveling by bike,” said Higgins – who pointed out that the Outer Harbor landing of the Queen City Bike Ferry sits adjacent to the park’s entrance. While the ferry aims to enhance the use of the Outer Harbor by those on two wheels, Lighthouse Point Park does not.
By next summer, that may change. Higgins has met with Coast Guard officials in Washington, D.C., who he said are in agreement that a change is needed to both the layout of the Coast Guard station and expansion of the park.
“Senior management in Coast Guard has said that they’re going to take immediate steps to make the site more accessible and more welcoming. We are going to hold them to that and we are going to commit to working with them in the next fiscal year, to include capital funding for a more comprehensive relocation,” said Higgins.
Higgins made clear that he is not advocating for the Coast Guard station to move from its location, but simply decrease its footprint by as much as half – a change he said Coast Guard officials are amenable to. While the station once served an expansive role, maintaining high volumes of commercial traffic on Lake Erie, its current role is far more reduced.
“They provide search and rescue services, which are very, very important,” said Higgins.
Higgins said public access does not conflict with the Coast Guard mission on Lake Erie and the Niagara River, and believes the Coast Guard should want the public to be able to see and be aware of the job they do.
As for security for the facility, Higgins said the public poses no threat. When asked if the Coast Guard voiced any concern over changes to security, Higgins said, “No, they recognize that they need to do better. I understand the need for a fence, but does a fence need to be where it is? Clearly everything could be pushed back considerably, which would not in any way adversely impact their current administrative operation.”
Some changes are already completed – including relocation of utilities and the completion of an $11.8 million reconstruction of the concrete docks and fueling area inside the station. The removal of redundant security barriers at the entrance will be next, followed by a long term plan to reconfigure buildings in the station and possibly allow public access to recreational fields currently available only to Coast Guard personnel. The barrier removal is expected by the start of the next summer season on the waterfront.