By Joe Kissel
A community garden to help beautify Oliver Street, a peddle-powered tour boat on the Erie Canal and a comprehensive plan to make North Tonawanda a more connected, safer, walkable city were discussed Tuesday at North Tonawanda’s Common Council workshop.
However, a multi-million dollar plan to replace and renovate critical systems at the aging water treatment plant has the council’s full attention.
Wendell Architects & Engineers was chosen to lead the city’s plan to deal with the many issues new Water Superintendent Bill Davignon has brought to the council’s attention many times during 2017.
“The listed critical items are truly critical,” Mr. Davignon said Tuesday. “If anything comes out of this, that needs to be done,” he said of the many prioritized items listed in a report submitted to the council.
“We have to get moving to get in on this year’s grant cycle,” he added.
“We don’t want raw sewage going into the river,” said Brian Sibiga of Wendell, who’s serving as lead engineer on the project.
Mr. Davignon said much of the equipment at the water treatment plant has been used longer than twice its projected lifespan and that some of the systems like the grit remover don’t function properly anymore.
The cost of the repairs and upgrades and new efficiencies could reach $20 million. A new plant would cost $80 million, Mr. Sibiga said, with an additional $200 million for infrastructure costs related to converting the 100-year-old combined sewer system — that in some places uses wooden pipes — into a more modern separated system.
While the council considers how to proceed with funding the water-treatment-plant project, it also heard proposals to bring a community garden to Oliver and Sommer Streets by a group that’s done five similar successful projects in Lockport, Buffalo and other locations in Western New York.
After the group constructs the fenced-in garden with raised planters, residents from the surrounding neighborhood take care of the plots that will grow vegetables and add life to the drab scene currently at 228 Sommer St.
The only hitch is that railroad company CSX owns the plot, and while a representative said she was excited by the project, there’s no guarantee the group will get permission.
That’s why an alternative location nearby was presented to the board, but most agreed the Sommer St. location would provide the most impact to Oliver St. and be closer to residents, who will also be providing eyes to watch over it.
Bob Zima of Community Gardens said the already existing gardens have seen very few problems regarding theft or vandalism.
While Community Gardens donates nearly all aspects of the project, water would be a city contribution, Mr. Zima said. The garden will be the “most visually stunning greenspace on Oliver Street by far,” he added.
Right now the site features dead trees, a few parked cars as well as overgrown brush that could present a safety concern.
The council also announced it will be undertaking a $160,000 project with NT landscape architect firm Joy Kuebler and Associates to link together various parts of the city including the downtown. The issue was a central one to new Councilman Austin Tylec during his campaign for the Alderman at Large seat he won in November.
A series of public hearings looking to get public input will be announced soon and rolled out in February.
Mr. Tylec said there “isn’t a more qualified landscape architect” to work on this project than NT native Kuebler.
In other matters, the council is trying to formulate a strategy going forward involving the installment of street lights on newly developed streets, and they listened to a proposal from the owner of Buffalo Cycleboats to rent dock space in the city’s increasingly crowded downtown canal area.