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Mon., Aug. 31
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Massena weir repairs could top $1 million


MASSENA - Repairing the breached Grasse River weir in downtown Massena could cost more than $1 million, according to a Clarkson University professor.

But Mayor James F. Hidy is optimistic the village may be able to find multiple sources of funding for the project to make it work.

For the last year Mr. Hidy has been pushing for repairs to the 300-foot-long weir, last rebuilt in 1913. In spring 1997, a large tree floating down the river after a thaw broke a hole through the center of the structure, which has remained breached since.

The breach has caused water levels to fall during the summer and limited recreational uses, Mr. Hidy said. He was interested in mending the dam to restore water levels, which could create boating, kayaking and other opportunities downtown and spur potential development.

Mr. Hidy left a meeting with New York state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens earlier this year encouraged about the project’s prospects. Since then, other DEC represetatives have traveled to Massena to help village officials prepare a project application, he said. A preliminary design for the weir has been completed.

Mr. Hidy also reached out to Clarkson University President Anthony G. Collins to see if the institution could lend its expertise in the effort. Mr. Collins agreed, and on Tuesday Professor Emeritus Norbert L. Ackermann traveled to Massena to assess the site.

“It’s exciting. It’s promising. We hope we an continue to take it to the next level and finally give people what they want,” Mr. Hidy said.

But repairing the weir won’t be simple, according to Dr. Ackermann, whose expertise is in water resources.

“You can’t just go in there and pour concrete,” he said. “There are all kinds of issues ... There are all kinds of contingencies that weren’t there before.”

Calling $1 million a “conservative estimate,” Dr. Ackermann said the project would require a professional firm specializing in dam repairs. The village would also have to address the changes in the ecosystem since the weir first breached 15 years ago.

“There’s a lot of manpower involved, a lot of design work involved,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done ... That breach is pretty extensive. That’s a big breach.”

While Dr. Ackermann said he was willing to continue discussing the project, Clarkson students will not be taking an engineering role just yet.

“At this point, there is no project envisioned as far as Clarkson as concerned,” he said.

Mr. Hidy and Department of Public Works Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad did not see the seven figure price tag as insurmountable.

“It would not occur unless we get some state or federal aid,” Mr. Fayad said. “I’m not so sure the village board is going to authorize that without substantial assistance from Albany.”

Massena Electric Department’s previous studies completed for a proposed hydroelectric dam on the river could help the weir effort, Mr. Fayad said. MED pulled the plug on that project in the summer of 2010, citing a lack of cooperation from state regulatory agencies, but completed work the weir project could use.

“We have to pick up where they left off and see if we can’t make something happen for us,” he said.

Mr. Hidy also saw the New York Power Authority and Alcoa as potential funding sources. The dam’s historical nature, with origins dating back to the 1790s, could also work in its favor for funding applications, he said.

“You’ve just got to deal with it and find ways to make it happen,” he said.

The village will also have to purchase the weir. The structure is privately owned by the Portolese family, which operates the adjacent T&T Famiglia Restaurant.

“I’ve been told by the owners they would turn it over to the village if in fact they could get it repaired,” he said.

He praised Mr. Collins, Mr. Martens and Sen. Joseph A. Griffo for helping advance the project. Still, Mr. Hidy said the $1 million was more than the $500,000 he was imaginingng for the project.

“We’ll have to wait and see what it entails,” he said.

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