A lengthy project to make Sewall’s Island in Watertown suitable for redevelopment recently embarked on a new chapter.

Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, said cleanup work is finished. Officials will start reviewing ideas for what can be created on 10 of the 18.6 acres of land the city owns; the island’s total mass is more than 28 acres.

This process began in 1999. That’s a long time to wait to see new development brought back to an area surrounded by the Black River that has great potential.

“It’s a blank canvas,” Mr. Lumbis said in a story published Saturday in the Watertown Daily Times. “It’s a matter of finding the right development.”

Those who will be involved in planning ideas definitely have their worked cut out for them. A redevelopment study for Sewall’s Island to be conducted will include the likelihood of working on projects in the Factory Square area.

The state Development of Environmental Conservation hired Environmental Service Group Inc. from Tonawanda to complete all the remediation efforts. In addition, the city received a $50,000 Strategic Planning and Feasibility Studies grant last year from the state Department of State to create a redevelopment plan for Sewall’s Island. We commend these state agencies for investing public money into this important project.

“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. Initial plans call for making improvements to a pair of railroad bridges for pedestrian and bike use on the island and connect them with other city trails, Mr. Lumbis said. He also envisions some type of recreational businesses, such as a kayak rental or sales venture, or possibly a restaurant because of the ‘amazing views’ it would have of the Black River,” the story reported. “Volatile organic compounds, metals and industrial cleaning compounds and agents were found on the site. Two drums of contaminants also were discovered during the environmental analysis. Remaining concrete slabs along Pearl Street, remnants of the Black Clawson plant, were used as cover from the soil underneath. The Tonawanda company was paid $1,298,569 for the work. The cost of the engineering work was $217,000. The city is paying 10 percent of the project’s cost, or $150,000 of the approximate $1.5 million total cost, with DEC covering the remainder.”

Watertown acquired the property from the Black Clawson Co. through back taxes. Its foundry closed in 1991, and the complex was destroyed by a fire in 1999.

“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 chain-link fencing will remain on the site, at least for now,” according to the story. The buildings were demolished in 2001, leaving remnants of concrete foundations that cover about 25 percent of the reusable site. Soil contaminants remain underneath. … First developed in 1840 for the Begley & Sewall machine shop, the island was the home of a paper company, a sewing machine manufacturer and a carriage company before the Black Clawson Co. purchased the machine shop during the 1950s.”

The redevelopment study will take between six and nine months to complete. Much has changed in the city over the past two decades. How successful any new plans for Sewall’s Island are depend on what residents want to see done there.

It’s very good news that the cleanup project has been completed. Residents in particular must express their views on how best to use the property.

It’s time for us to work together to add to Watertown’s vibrancy by ensuring this area flourishes.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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