Ideas to redevelop Sewall’s Island to be aired Aug. 10

This Google Earth satellite images shows Sewall’s Island.

WATERTOWN — For months, city officials have waited for a team of landscape engineers from Ohio to put together their ideas on how to redevelop Sewall’s Island.

They will soon find out as the consultants, MKSK Studios, Ohio, are finishing up those efforts and will present their report to City Council during a work session on Aug. 10.

“We’re very excited to see what they’ve done,” said Jennifer Voss, the senior planner in the city Planning Department.

The folks at MKSK also were given the task about redeveloping the nearby Factory Square neighborhood, once the hub of the city’s manufacturing district a century ago.

To get to this point, a long-awaited $1.5 million environmental cleanup of Sewall’s Island was finally completed last year before any kind of development could proceed.

Since last winter, the Planning Department has worked closely with the consultant, but the coronavirus made it a little more difficult to get input from the public on what it would like to see on the island, once the home of the massive Black Clawson Co.

In January, the consultants gathered with about 10 interested residents to get some of their ideas. Those in attendance envisioned hiking and biking trails and some green space.

The consultants were going to come back in March and June to discuss their findings but the pandemic prevented them from returning. Instead, a public survey was completed.

With the pandemic still going on, the consultants will make their Aug. 10 presentation virtually through a Zoom meeting.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero thinks the island has potential to be a focal point of the city once again.

“It’s going to be nice to see what they’ve come up with,” she said.

The city owns 18.6 acres of the 28.7-acre island property on the Black River, about 10 acres of which can be developed.

About 5.6 acres of the island can be designated only for park development after 2 feet of new soil was deposited there during the cleanup, while another section can be developed for commercial purposes after a foot of topsoil was added.

There’s been talk about making improvements to a pair of railroad bridges for pedestrian and bike use on the island and connect them with other city trails.

Over the years, the former Black Clawson site has been the source of complaints because of its unsightly condition, with piles of debris, parts of the building foundation and a long section of chain-link fencing that fronts Pearl Street visible.

The city obtained the property through back taxes from Black Clawson, which closed its foundry in 1991. The massive complex was destroyed in a fire in 1999.

The buildings were demolished in 2001, leaving remnants of concrete foundations that cover about 25 percent of the reusable site. Soil contaminants remain underneath.

The Factory Square area of downtown contains a series of industrial buildings along the river, some commercial businesses and a small park, where the city had once planned to create a dog park. For years, it’s been a goal of city officials to spruce up the neighborhood.

Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners operates a hydroelectric plant on the island. That section of the island was not part of the remediation project.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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