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Clarkson study says Massena weir replacement not feasible

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POTSDAM - A study conducted by more than 40 Clarkson University students over a two-year period found that replacing the broken Grasse River weir in downtown Massena was not feasible.

“In case a weir wasn’t able to be built, we worked to have some alternatives,” according to Jacob Misch, who presented an outline of the group’s work. Mr. Misch said it was the group’s goal to identify ways to beautify the community, attract people to Massena and aid in the community’s growth, economically and socially.

With construction costs of $1.1 million and the need to build two access roads at $180,000 each, the prospects of building a weir was something the group recommended against at this time.

Jim Elmer, who presented a cost analysis of the potential project, noted regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), would have to decide if a weir was “necessary and reasonable.”

“Their interpretation of necessary and reasonable may be different from yours,” Mr. Elmer said as he gave the presentation a nearly packed room on the Clarkson campus with Mayor James F. Hidy sitting in the front row.

The group examined three types of weirs - a fixed height weir, a vee-notched weir and an inflatable weir - before determining a fixed height weir with piers would be the best option. The piers, which would be a part of the weir, jut out roughly three feet from the top of the structure and would also aid in ice control.

“All three of these will serve as some sort of fish impediment,” Eric Mallery said.

Given the costs and environmental hurdles, Mr. Hidy said he understood the group’s conclusion, “It’s unfortunate that when it was just a door-sized breach it wasn’t sealed at that time,” he said, noting the the initial weir breach was more than two decades ago. “Obviously with waiting that long to the current time many things have transpired since then. The hole is now probably 60 yards wide. The fish downstream have been able to swim up and down the river freely for years, which affects their spawning and has thus added environmental issues moving forward,” he said.

The Clarkson group recommended constructing a natural playground and building some walkways and bike trails rather than a weir.

Nick Short said a natural playground could likely be designed for approximately $15,000, with the cost of material varying on the project’s scope. “Natural playgrounds tend to be very environmentally friendly,” he said, adding unlike other playgrounds they could also be used year-round with the natural hills being used for sledding during the winter months.

Mr. Short also said in addition to attracting people to the village a playground could spruce up the village’s waterfront.“We feel as though a natural playground would be very adept at increasing the aesthetics of the waterfront, he said.

The recommended location for the playground was the East Orvis Street park.

Mr. Short said a trail would not only bring people to Massena, but also provide a small boost to the local economy. Citing a tourism study done along the Erie Canal, Mr. Short said tourists utilizing the trails there spent on average $100 per day, not including lodging.

“By highlighting some of the village’s historical sites, it could draw tourism into Massena’s downtown,” he said, noting the old weir site, the town hall, Alcoa and the former Massena Observer office would all make good stops for tourists along the trail.

Maureen Hoen presented said the group also felt Massena would benefit from a business incubator. “We would hope to create a strong sense of community by grouping businesses together,” she said. “By partnering locally you would increase young entrepreneurship and encourage people to stay in the area.”

Potential partners for the incubator could include Paul Smith’s College, St. Lawrence University, SUNY Potsdam (Crane School of Music), Fort Drum, Massena High School and/or St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES. Clarkson was not included on the list, as the university already has its own business incubator.

Should the incubator use already existing space, construction costs could be minimized or possibly avoided, but Ms. Hoen said annual costs of maintaining such a facility would be roughly $142,500 with money being needed for building maintenance, personnel costs, facilities, marketing and staff training. “Many of those numbers could fluctuate based on the types of businesses located there,” she said.

The group’s final suggestion was to build a fish hatchery, something that could become a tourist attraction, while also being used to help increase fishing opportunities in the area.

“A hatchery itself could become a tourism attraction, but you would also be raising and releasing fish for sport fishing,” Ryan Rauhut said. “An aquaculture facility doesn’t have to be big right off the bat. It could start small and grow to become as big as you want it to be,” Mr. Rauhut said.

Mr. Hidy said he would take the ideas presented by the study and discuss them with his board.

“With this study we have been given some options to ponder,” he said. “I’ve reached out to various environmental agencies to partner with them for the beautification of not only the river bed itself, but our shoreline.”

Mr. Hidy said he was impressed with the study. “There’s no doubt in my mind each of you are going to succeed later in life,” he told the students. “I would like to thank President Tony Collins, Dr. (Jon) Goss, Professor (Marshell) Issen, and Brenda Kozsan, as well as certainly the students who worked on and presented this project.”




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