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Village plans to move ahead with Weir reconstruction

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MASSENA — The village of Massena is working on a property deal in order to repair the weir dam and develop the Grasse River waterfront downtown.

Mayor James F. Hidy said the village has made a request to purchase land from Tripstar LLC, the owner of T&T Restaurant on Water Street, to give repair crews access to the riverfront where the damaged weir is situated.

“They want to turn that property over to us for one dollar because in order to get the weir repaired, we can’t do it if it’s privately owned,” Mr. Hidy said.

Mr. Hidy said he has contacted Clarkson University President Anthony G. Collins, who has agreed to have engineering students help work on a structural design for the dam so it meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, including a fish ladder for native species.

Michael Griffin, director of news and digital content services at Clarkson, said Mr. Collins has put the weir project on a list of community projects to be considered for work by honors students.

“These students would work on a planning exercise” and consider: “what is the weir, why do we have a weir, and how do you go about repairing the weir?” Mr. Griffin said.

Clarkson Professor Emeritus Norbert L. Ackermann, who assessed the site in April, concluded that a project to repair the dam would cost $1 million and would require a professional firm specializing in such work. “You can’t just go in there and pour concrete,” he said at the time. “There are all kinds of issues.”

The 300-foot-long weir was breached in 1997 when, after a thaw, a large tree floated down the river and punctured it.

The village plans to apply for grants to fund the project, Mr. Hidy said, but first, the village must own the property.

Repairing the weir might be a good starting point to develop the Grasse River waterfront in downtown Massena, a plan that is the brainchild of Michael Almasian, executive director of the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena.

Mr. Almasian’s proposal includes building a boardwalk on each side of the river; restoring the footbridge over the Grasse; creating a boat launch near the Massena Fire Department on Andrews Street; and building paths, beaches and a visitors center.

“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 Massena’s downtown riverfront, if developed effectively, 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 what his proposal would cost, but said he expects the Grasse to be developed in stages. 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 for the project.

“I believe there is a cheaper (remediation) option for Alcoa, and Alcoa can help us,” Mr. Almasian said.

“It’s going to take a big effort and the generosity of many.”

Mr. Hidy made note of 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.”

Village Trustee Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies noted many hurdles and delays the village has encountered in past efforts to repair the weir dam.

“They’ve been kicking this around forever, ever since I’ve been on this board,” Mr. Deshaies said. “The DEC is a stumbling block. Fix the dam.”

Mr. Hidy said the village would like to see community involvement in the Weir dam and downtown redevelopment projects. He encouraged anyone with ideas for development or funding sources to contact village officials.

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