Sewall’s Island redevelopment studied

Sewall’s Island, Factory Square redevelopment plan map. Photo provided by city of Watertown

WATERTOWN — With the environmental cleanup now finished, the city will focus its efforts on how Sewall’s Island can be redeveloped into possibly recreational or business possibilities.

The city has scheduled the first of three public meetings to see what people would like to see done with the vacant property, once the home of the Black Clawson’s massive plant.

“I think there’s a lot of potential there,” Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith said.

After years of environmental investigations and planning, the long-awaited $1.5 million cleanup of Sewall’s Island was finally completed in October.

Since then, the city hired a consultant, MKSK Studios, Columbus, Ohio, to help come up with a plan for redevelopment of both Sewall’s Island and nearby Factory Square.

A steering committee, consisting of about a dozen local people with an interest in the river and business development, also met several times in recent months to discuss the project.

However, the first public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office, 203 N. Hamilton St.

“It’s the kickoff meeting for the project,” Senior Planner and Project Manager Jennifer Voss said.

The consultants, who are getting paid $95,000, will talk about the work they will do on the project, about their understanding of the area and how they’ll go about their efforts.

Another public session will be scheduled in March and a third in June to discuss the consultant’s findings.

The public also is being encouraged to fill out a short survey to share their thoughts and help guide the redevelopment. The survey can be found at:

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.

City officials also envision some type of recreational businesses, such as a kayak rental or sales venture, possibly a restaurant or retail businesses because of the views they would have of the Black River.

Besides those potential opportunities, Mayor Smith mentioned that an old hydroelectric plant is on the island and could be used again.

The consultant feasibility study, which also includes looking at community and economic development in the Factory Square area of the city, will be completed by June.

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.

Once the study is completed, the focus would then turn to attracting developers to come up with proposals for the island and Factory Square.

But it’s taken years to get to this point for considering how the island should be redeveloped.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation hired a Tonawanda company, Environmental Service Group Inc., to complete the remediation work and finish up some previous environmental cleanup efforts after the project ran out of money several years ago.

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 paid 10 percent of the project’s cost, or $150,000 of the approximate $1.5 million total cost, with DEC covering the remainder.

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.

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

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.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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