OSWEGO, N.Y. – The planned transformation of the International Pier is underway, with Port City workers starting preliminary demolition efforts this week to prepare for the stabilization and reinforcement of the water damaged peninsula.
The International Pier overhaul is slated to reinforce the structure, which in recent years has been badly damaged by high Lake Ontario waters and flooding that city officials say undermined the structural integrity of the pier. Over the next year, the pier is slated for a transformation that would see the underutilized parcel become a pedestrian-friendly attraction that complements the ongoing improvements to Breitbeck Park and Wright’s Landing Marina.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said the current work on the pier, which is being done by the city Department of Public Works, is aimed at preparing the site for the forthcoming structural reinforcement. City officials are planning to solicit bids for the major construction work later this year or early 2021, Barlow said, and that construction is likely to last through 2021 and into 2022.
The city of Oswego was awarded more than $6 million to overhaul the International Pier in late 2019 as part of the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative (REDI), which set sights on spurring economic development and repairing damages caused by high water and flooding in recent years. The city also received REDI funding for Wright’s Landing and Breitbeck Park.
Dating back to August 2019 when the project was first proposed, Barlow has called “transforming the International Pier” into a “boardwalk atmosphere” the city’s top waterfront priority.
“There is no asset in this community more important than our waterfront, the marina and the pier,” Barlow said again this week. “There is no project more important to our waterfront than the marina improvements and the pier improvements.”
The city’s plans call for the pier to be pedestrian-only with the exception of access for emergency vehicles or deliveries, and include a walkway with landscaping, a switchback trail, ADA access to the docks and an open area at the end of the pier that could house more fire pits like the ones at Breitbeck Park or a water feature.
The most expensive portion of the International Pier project is the installation of sheet piling that will act as a retaining wall around the pier and protect it from future high water.
Lake Ontario waters reached a record-high in June 2019 of 249.08 feet — the highest point in more than 100 years of record keeping — surpassing the 248.95 feet record set just two years earlier in 2017. The high waters on the Great Lake prompted the state’s REDI program and funding, and in turn the pier project.
Barlow said the city sent underwater divers and drones down to inspect the structural integrity of the pier and “without question” the structure would’ve been condemned and unusable within the next decade without the reinforcement.
Perhaps complicating the International Pier project is a lawsuit from the Oswego Yacht Club (OYC) filed against the city in state Supreme Court late last month. OYC sued the city for allegedly unlawfully terminating a lease between the two parties for the only building on the International Pier, which for more than a decade has housed OYC.
The OYC lawsuit, filed Sept. 23, claims the city violated its lease rights with the August termination of the agreement. City officials at the time cited a clause that allowed for the lease termination if the property were partially destroyed — which the city argued would occur with the redevelopment of the International Pier — but the yacht club’s challenge points out the property is “not currently demolished” and noted the city is speculating the premises may be voluntarily demolished by the city in the future.
Whether or not the city had the right to terminate the lease remains an open question, and the city has yet to file a response to the OYC suit, but officials are instead planning to start eminent domain proceedings in order to take back the city-owned property.
Eminent domain refers to the government’s power to take private property and covert it to public use. Typically used for the takeover of private property for public use, in this instance the city would be repossessing a city-owned building that was leased to a private entity.
Governments are required to provide property owners with compensation when taking property via eminent domain, but the yacht club in it’s filing last month said “monetary damages are not an adequate remedy for the city’s breach” of the lease. OYC claims the property “offers unique access to Oswego’s only deep-water marina” and the location is “critical” for maintaining the club’s public presence.
Barlow previously said the legal proceedings would not hold up the impending redevelopment of the pier, which he said would be under construction and transformed regardless of the legal proceedings or outcome.
“Their lawsuit is only about the building itself and we will continue to do all the work we need to do all the way around that building,” the mayor said, adding the lawsuit would not slow, stop or change the project.
Barlow has said ousting the yacht club from the building is necessary to accomplish the goals of the city’s multi-million dollar waterfront redevelopment.