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Demolition of nine boathouses will pave the way to new park

A $300,000 city project to demolish nine private boathouses at the Weatherbest Slip and remediate and replace a contaminated storm sewer underneath them, would create a new one-acre public park on the site.

The project has gained a grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation that would reimburse the city $96,016, and the Common Council this week authorized the mayor to sign a state contract.

Gateway Point Recreation Park will include a walking path, landscaping, benches, lights and trash cans where several old boathouses now stand.

The city borrowed $200,000 last year for the demolition and storm sewer portion of the project.

Dozens of boathouses that line Little River in North Tonawanda -- many of which are on property leased from the city for $900 per year -- have been a controversial subject for years.

Some officials say the arrangement limits access to the water for the rest of the public and the structures are eyesores, while owners stand by the historic buildings and say residents are welcome to that part of the waterfront.

Last July, the Common Council chose not to override Mayor Lawrence V. Soos' veto of a proposed three-year lease for the boathouse owners, opting to allow traditional one-year lease arrangements to continue.

The owners of the boathouses that are scheduled for demolition will be given 60-day notices and can remove personal property during that time, according to the mayor's administrative assistant, Jeffrey Mis.

Mis said the leases can be terminated by the city for public purpose or convenience.

City Engineer Dale Marshall said the state approved the grant for the park in 2003, but the project was expanded to include the effort to address the contaminated storm sewer.

"Gateway Point is another point that's publicly owned and gives something back to the public on their waterfront," Marshall said. "It's only an acre park. There's still boathouses there but you've got to strike a balance."

He said the boathouses affected are on the northern section of the Weatherbest Slip, off River Road. Two additional boathouses on the city-owned property have already been torn down because they were dilapidated.

Marshall believes the storm sewer contamination was caused by raw sewage being dumped by boaters who use the boat slips, and said it's important to unblock the pipe because it also drains River Road.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is aware of the problem, and the city's plan to address it.

The proposed state contract calls for bids on the park project to go out this summer, but Marshall said the city first must negotiate an easement to reach that storm sewer line, which was built off of former Bond Street and is now private property. That could delay bidding until this fall.

When the new park is completed, it will be connected with the final 6,000 feet of North Tonawanda's Riverwalk bike trail that is set to connect Fisherman's Park with Gateway Harbor. Along with the state contract approval, the Council voted Tuesday night to authorize Soos to sign a contract that would give the city an $86,751 state reimbursement for that $183,000 project, which is expected to be completed this fall.


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