Ogdensburg revisits 2011 decision to turn down federal funding as it plans waterfront repairs

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OGDENSBURG — As the city explores options for revitalizing its waterfront, officials are revisiting a decision from early 2011 when more than a half a million dollars in federal funding offered to improve the municipal greenbelt was turned down.

The plan for revitalizing the area, announced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in March of 2011, hinged on $501,311 in federal funding to add a boat fueling station, as well as berthing for as many as 45 transient recreational boats on the St. Lawrence River.

The funding, which would have been allocated through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Boating Infrastructure Grant program, was rejected by Ogdensburg City Council. Reasons at the time ranged from having to provide approximately $176,000 in matching funds for the marina improvements to not wanting to compete with private marina businesses in the area.

In recent weeks city officials, including City Manager Sarah Purdy, have met with state and federal officials about rehabilitating the city’s waterfront after high water levels along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River eroded much of the municipal greenbelt area. Damage from the surge caused sink holes in a paving-stone walking area and damage to nearby parking. The area has been closed to pedestrians and traffic for over a year.

City Council has already approved borrowing up to $4.3 million to begin restoring the municipality’s flood-damaged seawall, boardwalk and other areas, with hopes of recouping the money in the form of grants offered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On Tuesday the board received its latest update from Ms. Purdy on ideas for repairing and improving the city’s waterfront. She said the municipality now has an opportunity to use federal funding not only to make repairs, but to make changes that could have a “significant impact” on the community’s St. Lawrence River frontage.

“We all think that the city has a distinct opportunity to create greater access to the St. Lawrence Riverfront and bring about more waterfront activity,” Ms. Purdy said. “And do it in a way that ensures at the same time that there still is vehicular access. So we think there is a way to open more of an area of the greenbelt waterfront.”

Ms. Purdy said concepts being explored include opening up space for waterfront recreation, food concessions, a pavilion and creating access to transient docking.

“The question is, do we leave it alone and have it the way it always has been, or do we open it up to some new possibilities?” Ms. Purdy said. “Do we do less asphalt and more activity, or the same amount of asphalt and hope for more activity?”

Councilors Daniel Skamperle, Nichole Kennedy and Jennifer Stevenson said they would like to see a hybrid plan that includes more green space near the river, but while maintaining a limited number of parking spaces near the waterfront.

Mr. Skamperle also asked if there was plan for a refueling point for large ships.

The question prompted a discussion on the grant that was turned down seven years ago, and whether there was a new consensus on adding fuel tanks to the municipal waterfront.

“In hindsight, the decision we made at the time, we had two businesses that were going to open refueling stations and since then only one has,” Mr. Skamperle said. “And I don’t think his business is dependent by any means on that refueling station.”

Ogdensburg Mayor Wayne Ashley disagreed, however. Mr. Ashley was one of those who voted against the concept in 2011 as a councilor.

“I just don’t think tanks will look right down there,’ Mr. Ashley said. “We discussed this a few years ago. Wouldn’t that just cause a bigger liability? Pumping gas?

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, is another official who met recently with city officials in Ogdensburg to get an update on the municipality’s flood recovery efforts and to learn more about its vision for the future.

“I wanted to sit down with the city officials to get a better understanding of the funding they are expecting to receive to make repairs to infrastructure that was damaged during the flooding last spring and summer,” Ms. Jenne said in a statement. “I was in the city last spring when water levels were at the peak and also had an opportunity to see some of the damage as those levels started to drop last year.”

Local leaders have been working with state and federal officials to secure funding for infrastructure damaged by last year’s flooding. Federal funding will help the city recover the costs of infrastructure repairs. The amount of money the city will receive has not yet been decided.

The Ogdensburg City Council voted in April to borrow a maximum of $4.3 million for work on the seawall, boardwalk and other infrastructure damaged by the flooding.

City officials anticipate approximately 90 percent of the work will be funded by state and federal dollars allocated for flood recovery efforts.

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