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Watertown to seek funding for more Sewall’s Island cleanup

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WATERTOWN — The city Planning Department intends to apply for state funding to complete the cleanup of Sewall’s Island.

The City Council gave permission on Tuesday night to the Planning Department to pursue funding, through the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Works Round II Statewide Capital Infrastructure Program, to finish up the environmental cleanup after the project ran out of money a few years ago.

Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator, told council members that the Sewall’s Island project is one of 27 across the state that qualify for the DEC program. The state set aside $12 million in the 2013-14 budget for “environmental restoration projects,” he said.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said the city has spent years trying to clean up the island and develop it. With his bar across the Black River on Pearl Street, the mayor said he has to look at the garbage and debris on a daily basis.

“It really is an eyesore,” Mr. Graham said. “It’s one of our main entrances to the city and it looks abysmal.”

Under the program, the city could proceed with a $2.1 million project to remove soil from the city-owned part of the island, ship the contaminated soil away and replace it with clean soil. Or it could opt for work that would cost $550,000 to cover the property with clean soil, Mr. Mix said.

If funded, the city would be required to pay 10 percent of the project’s cost.

Mr. Mix recommends completing the $550,000 project. The applications are due to the state by Oct. 30.

“They’ll develop the plans for it,” he said. “They’ll put together the environmental easements that we’ll have to enter,” Mr. Mix said.

The city owns 18.6 acres of the 28.7-acre island property, and about 10 acres of that can be developed.

In 2007, the city received a $561,200 state DEC grant and $200,000 in federal Environmental Protection Agency funding to help rid the island of contaminated soil.

In recent years, there has been some preliminary interest from developers in building housing on a portion of the island. Two years ago, an unidentified developer took a tour of the site, but no proposal was forthcoming.

While he supported submitting the DEC application, Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said he is not so sure a developer could obtain financing for a project on the island, saying it “would be a long shot.”

The city took the property because of unpaid back taxes from Black Clawson Co., which closed its foundry in 1991 and demolished the buildings in 2001. The island has been vacant ever since.

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