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WILSON – The Town of Wilson last week received two checks totaling more than $163,000 in Niagara River Greenway Commission grants to revitalize its harbor and improve access to it.

The town received a $90,350 reimbursement check to provide a walking and bicycle trail from the Village of Wilson to the harbor – a project it hopes to finish by late November. It received another check for $70,000 to conduct sediment sampling and lab testing to prepare the harbor for dredging next year.

“These two projects are important because the Town of Wilson is really all about tourism,” Supervisor Joseph A. Jastrzemski said. “On behalf of the Town Board, I’d like to thank Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey, R-Wilson, and the Legislature for having the confidence in us to help us get this Greenway Commission money.”

He noted that the work is nearly complete on the walking and bicycling trail.

“We have about 10 percent of the project left to do – put some lighting up, some Greenway Commission signage up – and we hope to finish up by Thanksgiving,” he said. “The trail is in place and has been utilized since early summer. Our vision was to have this for boaters using our harbor to be able to walk into the village and utilize our business district and for people in the village to be able to walk down to the harbor.”

Workers constructed a five-foot concrete path from Route 18 down Park Street to the entrance of Greenwood Veterans Memorial Park, around Shore Drive to the entrance of the harbor and from Memorial Park to O’Connell Island.

“It’s been a dangerous situation without the path,” Jastrzemski said. “It’s been a safety issue. And we hope to extend this path to the Wilson Tuscarora State Park someday.”

He said the project ended up costing about $134,000, with a portion accomplished through in-kind services from the town.

“We had some drainage work to do that we hadn’t planned on at first,” he explained. “And our Department of Public Works did a great amount of work to prepare the site for the concrete. “

The harbor project will make it “shovel ready” for dredging, which is planned for next summer by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps learned this summer that it would receive some of the $60.4 billion earmarked for response, recovery and mitigation costs related to Hurricane Sandy to dredge harbors nationwide, including Wilson, Olcott and Oak Orchards in Orleans County.

“If all goes well and Congress continues to earmark the money for dredging, we’re hoping this will be done early next summer,” Jastrzemski said. “I know the marinas have their permits in place, so when the barge gets here, we should be able to get the harbor dredged.”

The harbor has been in critical need of dredging for many years, according to local marina owners and boaters. They say that for the first time in a generation, conditions have limited boaters’ access to the harbor due to the silt build-up and low water levels. The first phase is to do the required sediment sampling and lab testing needed to obtain the regulatory permits to dredge and the town worked with the Army Corps and state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine costs and protocol.

Wilson harbor is the largest naturally protected harbor on the south shore of Lake Ontario and is home to more than 500 boats, distributed among three yacht clubs and four marinas. Wilson Tuscarora State Park flanks the western end of the channel, with a ramp that averages more than 2,000 launches each season and it also hosts a U.S. Customs port-of-entry. The harbor also serves as an international harbor of refuge for any vessel in distress.