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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Village plans to move ahead with Weir reconstruction

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MASSENA - Village officials say they are moving forward on trying to finalize a deal to purchase the property that includes the breached weir on the Grasse River in downtown Massena.

Mayor James F. Hidy said Tripstar LLC, the owner of T&T Famiglia Restaurant on Water Street, has indicated they would be willing to turn over the property that includes the weir over to the village for $1.

“They are willing to turn that property over to the village for $1,” he said.

The mayor has said in the past that the private ownership of the weir adds further roadblocks to the existing hurdles set by state and federal agencies. Village officials have long said repairing the weir, bringing water levels on the Grasse downtown corridor back to where they were for most of the last century, could be a key component in remaking Massena’s downtown area.

Mr. Hidy said he has contacted Clarkson University President Tony Collins to seek the assistance of the university in moving the project forward. He said there is the possibility of some students doing structural design work on repairing the weir, a plan that would include fish ladders. “They (fish) are up here on the food ladder, and we are down here,” he fumed.

Michael Griffin, director of News and Digital Content Services for Clarkson University, said Mr. Collins has put the weir project on a list of local community projects to be considered for work by a group of honors students.

“These students would work on a planning exercise on the weir (and ask) ‘What is the weir, why do we have a weir, and how do you go about repairing the weir?’” he said.

Mr. Griffin could not provide specifics for how many other projects are on the students’ list, the nature of the work the students might do or when the students might begin the work.

Mr. Hidy told the village board this week Mr. Collins had also discussed the weir issue with DEC Regional Director Judy Drabecki. “They want to see more added value than just the weir,” he said, noting that component is already being worked on by Massena Business Development Corporation Director Michael Almasian. “Maybe we could finally get the hole plugged in that dam.”

The plan would also likely face challenges from the same state and federal agencies that led the Massena Electric Department to scrap a proposal to put a dam on the Grasse River after spending millions of dollars on studies and engineering work that had been required to move that effort forward.

“They’ve been kicking this around forever, ever since I’ve been on this board,” Village Trustee Albert “Herb” C. Deshaies charged. “The DEC, the DOT, the ABCs, all those agencies are mixed up. Fix the weir. They worry more about the fish than anything else.”

Clarkson Professor Emeritus Norbert L. Ackermann traveled to Massena in April to assess the site. Dr. Ackermann estimated a project cost of $1 million, saying the project would require a professional firm specializing in dam repairs.

The village plans to apply for grants to fund the project, Mr Hidy said. But in order to apply for these grants, the village must first own the property the weir is located on.

The repair of the weir would tie in with Mr. Almasian’s Grasse River development project that calls for the construction of a boardwalk on the north and south side of the Grasse River, the restoration of the Grasse River footbridge, the construction of a boat launch near the Massena Fire Department on Andrews Street, the construction of a pedestrian water tunnel to return the headpond and waterfall to the Grasse River, a visitor’s center; a programmable multi-color LED lighting system and a variety of footpaths and beaches.

“I think it will create a tourist economy in Massena, which we have not had for a long time,” Mr. Almasian said. “We don’t give anybody a reason to come to Massena, right now.”

Mr. Almasian thinks that if developed effectively, Massena’s downtown riverfront could compete with other popular tourism centers in the area.

“I want to create something special in Massena,” Mr. Almasian said. “I want to steal tourists from Lake Placid and The Thousand Islands, or at least make them stop here on their way through.” Mr. Almasian could not provide an estimate for the total cost of his proposal, but said he expects the Grasse to be developed in stages over a period of time. As for funding, Mr. Almasian wants Alcoa to include downtown development as part of its Grasse River remediation plan. He also hopes to acquire grants and other sources of funding for the project.

“I believe there is a cheaper (remediation) option for Alcoa, and Alcoa can help us by being a (lead funder), if not fund the whole project, to give us a new segment of our economy,” Mr. Almasian said. “It’s going to take a big effort and the generosity of many.”

Mr. Hidy made note of the footpaths in nearby towns such as Potsdam, saying they add character to a community and help draw tourists.

“People gravitate to water,” Mr. Hidy said. “They either want to walk near it or boat on it.”

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