By James Niedzinski
---- — ESSEX — The idea of a downtown Essex boardwalk is inching closer to becoming a reality, with town officials hoping that a feasibility study and design plans will be wrapping up soon.
The project has been in the works since 2010, when the state Seaport Advisory Council granted the town $155,000 to fund the study and design plans for a waterfront walkway.
The study has been underway ever since, with the town hiring officials from Salem State University and the planning firm Vine Associates, a division of GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc.
While town officials do not have the final plans yet, Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said the project is carrying an estimated cost of about $1 million, though the design still has a ways to go.
“Right now, we are waiting for Vine Associates to finalize the design and begin the permitting process,” he said.
Initially, plans to include a public float to allow boat access were not included. However, the town’s consultant was able to install the floats outside a recognized federal channel, where they are prohibited.
The design and permitting for the pocket dredging cost the the town an additional $34,420, which the town plans to add to the request for additional funding with the state Seaport Advisory Council, Zubricki said.
William Hamilton, a professor of geography at Salem State University and co-director of the Center for Economic Development and Stability said the feasibility report should be completed soon, along with initial design plans.
Hamilton said the boardwalk, set to be made of pressure treated lumber, will include benches, street lights and maybe some memorial plaques provided by the town. The primary focus is to give residents and visitors a better scenic view of the river, while also providing easier access to the Essex River Causeway.
While Hamilton said the project may seem large in terms of a dollar amount, the Seaport Advisory Council has allocated “millions upon millions” to similar projects in other municipalities — including money for Gloucester’s new $1.5 million HarborWalk, which opened this past summer and has since drawn rave reviews from businesses along its route and beyond.
Robert Coviello, Chairman of the Essex Merchants Group and owner of antique stores in Essex, said he believes the project would greatly benefit the town. Coviello said he has spoken with numerous restaurant and store owners along the river, who are all in favor of a boardwalk.
“I cannot, for the life of me, think of any negative impacts,” he said.
Hamilton said that after the feasibility study and plans are reviewed, the Seaport Advisory Committee will be approached for more funding.
“It might be 2014 until we see that money,” he said.
In an email to the Times, Coviello described the project as a major step forward for the town and said he was looking forward to boardwalk proposals.
“The boardwalk will be the jewel of our recently completed Route 133 upgrade opening up river access to a whole new group of townsfolk and visitors,” he wrote.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.