Ogdensburg site gets funds

The footprint of Fort de la Presentation is visible Wednesday on Van Rensselaer Point in Ogdensburg where shore erosion has become a concern. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — The Fort La Presentation Association has taken a step forward to receive funds from St. Lawrence County, allowing it to move forward on a million-dollar project to stabilize the site’s shoreline and raise a portion of its trail system.

After a presentation from Fort La Presentation Association President Barbara O’Keefe before the county Board of Legislators on Monday, legislators agreed to release just over $58,000 in funds that were set aside by the county years prior to assist with the site. The cash from the county, paired with a $10,000 grant from the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency River Valley Redevelopment Authority will allow the association to provide matching funds for a nearly $1.3 million grant from the state.

The state grant, provided through the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative program last year will allow the association to buffer the shoreline of the historical property, which itself is a point where the Oswegatchie River meets the St. Lawrence River. Trails have sustained damage and the property has been inundated with periods of high water over the last few years. Last year, Ms. O’Keefe said, the association had to move its living history day program for students, and it presented difficulties for the annual Founder’s Day weekend events.

“If any development is going to happen on that site, we need to take care of this issue,” Ms. O’Keefe said Monday about the shoreline mitigation.

The board was quick to move toward releasing the funds. No legislators expressed opposition and the voice vote appeared unanimous. While this was only a vote in committee, the measure will likely pass at the full board meeting Monday. County Administrator Ruth Doyle explained that the $58,000 from the county was originally set aside over a few years beginning in the early 2000s with the idea of giving it to the association when it was ready to take on a capital project.

The association was officially formed in 1999 and has been fighting to clean up and promote the location of the early colonial outpost ever since. After a David-versus-Goliath legal battle in the early 2000s, the association managed to hold ExxonMobil accountable for an over $10 million cleanup of contaminated soil on the site.

“You’ve got a bunch of normal people who’ve taken on ExxonMobil, beat ExxonMobil, forced them to do a $10 million cleanup on what had once been an abandoned property, and they get this wonderful trail system developed and the high waters nearly wash it away,” Legislator James E. Reagen said. “This is a small group that has a history of overcoming obstacles. They really deserve a lot of credit for having taken on a job that no one else was going to do and it’s a work in progress.”

Beyond the shoreline project, the association is in the middle of a three-year strategic plan that includes plans to build a scale replica of the fort, a French-style log cabin and a longhouse as well as other major improvements to the site.

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