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Rensselaer Falls fire department considers opening river access land

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RENSSELAER FALLS — The Fire and Rescue Squad will review its policy that allows residents open access to and parking on its land along the Oswegatchie River.

In the village, the river is accessible to the public only on the northwest side of the County Route 14 bridge, while the rest of the river frontage is either steep embankment or privately owned.

Owned by the Rensselaer Falls Fire and Rescue Squad, the river access area is used primarily by the squad and other departments to collect water for their pumper trucks.

First Assistant Chief Dallas R. Denny said Tuesday that the land was first fenced in to ensure trucks would be clear to enter the area free from obstacles or dangerous debris. He said the land has been gated for more than a decade.

“We don’t want cars going through there,” he said. “It’s not a large space. There is barely any room for two vehicles. We don’t mind people parking their vehicles and hanging out there for a little bit.”

The locked gate is opened only for scheduled organizational use. According to Fire Chief Jeff S. Hammond, the land is open to residents and used predominantly as a swimming hole in the summer.

“We are not denying any access by foot to the river. They are just not allowed to bring their vehicles down there,” Mr. Hammond said. “We might have to have emergency vehicles get through there. The gate was not meant to keep the public out; it was to keep vehicles out.”

There is a sign inside the property that notifies residents they may visit the area from dawn until dusk.

“We don’t mind people going there,” he said, “but we’re probably not going to be taking down the fence. We don’t want cars there overnight or beer bottles lying around. If anyone gets hurt, it is also a liability to the department.”

The gate was put up by the St. Lawrence County Highway Department as part of an agreement with the fire department after the fence was removed during the rebuilding of the County Route 14 bridge last year.

Mr. Denny acknowledged residents may not be satisfied with not having full access to the property. He said the department will review the policy at the next board meeting.

“We can look into having it open enough during the day,” he said.

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