US Army Corps of Engineers signs off on Mohawk Harbor

02-26-2015

SCHENECTADY — It looks like Mohawk Harbor will live up to its name.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on a permit allowing the Galesi Group to move forward with a key component of the developer’s plans to revitalize the old Alco site — a 50-slip harbor.

The Army Corps officially made its decision Monday, according to 1st Vice Chair Brad Sherwood. Construction of the harbor could start this spring, said Galesi Group Chief Operating Officer David Buicko.

The Army Corps’ approval enables the Rotterdam developer to carve into part of the 60-acre brownfield to create a three-acre harbor with 50 boat slips. Galesi plans to build apartments, condominiums and retail around the harbor.

As part of the project, the river will be widened and the entire site raised 1 to 4 feet.

“We’re raising the site out of the 100-year floodplain, and in some places out of the 500-year floodplain,” Buicko said. “Dredging the harbor will allow us to raise the property.”

Large piles of crushed concrete could be seen on the site from Erie Boulevard. That’s additional fill that was already brought to the property, Buicko said.

“All of those piles are fill and will be used to raise the site,” he said. “It’s not just coming from the harbor. Some areas need to be raised more than others.”

Buicko said the harbor’s design is targeted for flood-plain mitigation to create more space for water to go during storms and to move the site out of the flood zone.

“This has been designed not to impact any of the neighboring communities as well as our property,” Buicko said. “Our designs have incorporated the neighborhoods and the project won’t have any negative impact on adjacent property owners.”

The harbor still needs approval from the state Canal Corp. Galesi previously received the OK from the Department of Environmental Conservation for the project.

Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, said receiving approval from the Army Corps is a “major step” and that the Canal Corp. wants to see the project move forward.

“The Canal Corporation fully supports this project,” Gillen said. “Because it is along the canal, they need to be involved and we need to work with them.”

Galesi needs two permits from the Canal Corp. One is a use and occupancy permit for the boat basin and the other is a work permit to widen the river, according to Canal Corp. spokesman Shane Mahar.

“The difference between us and the Army Corps is that theirs is an environmental permit, where ours is permission to use canal land and water for construction and long-term use of the property,” Mahar said.

The Canal Corp. is still reviewing Galesi’s applications for the permits. The Canal Corp. sent questions and comments to Galesi about a month ago and is waiting for a response, Mahar said. He did not provide a time frame for approvals.

The Army Corps reviewed public comments on the proposed project as part of the permitting process, which showed that some nearby residents are concerned about potential flooding after being hit by tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011.

Glenville town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said he has asked the Glenville Environmental Conservation Commission to study the harbor’s potential impact on the town in regards to flooding.

“We certainly have concerns about potential flooding downriver when you consider how built-up that site is going to be,” he said. “Where will all of that water go? We have seen a series of flooding events. Now it just seems like basic logic when you raise ground in one spot that water will go further down the river.”

Gillen said the Army Corps would not have given its nod of approval if the harbor would flood nearby areas, like the town of Glenville and Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood.

“All of those concerns were addressed in the application and vetted by the Army Corps,” he said. “Widening the channel and creating the embayment is going to be a benefit and address those concerns in a positive way.”

Flooding aside, Koetzle said access to the river and more boat traffic will be positive for the town. Currently boats can dock across the river at the Waters Edge Lighthouse and the Freemans Bridge Boat Launch site.

“Potentially there will be more people coming and I think that will be good for Glenville,” he said. “Any boat traffic on the river is a good thing. I do think visually it’s going to be a beautiful site for visitors coming and going to Glenville right on the border.”

Development of Mohawk Harbor includes plans for one of the state’s first commercial casinos. The Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, to be operated by Rush Street Gaming of Chicago, was recommended for a casino license by the state Gaming Facility Location Board in December.

Rush Street has not received the license, yet. The Gaming Commission is expected to award licenses to the Rivers Casino and two other projects recommended by the siting board in a few months, after state police complete background checks.

Construction at Mohawk Harbor is already underway. Galesi is prepping the site for the casino and its previous plans for apartments, condominiums, townhouses, office and retail space, and a Courtyard by Marriott hotel. The entire project is estimated to cost about $480 million.

A bike path and pedestrian walkway will also be included on the site and around the harbor, connecting to the Erie Canalway Trail.

“We want to do the harbor first because we are building around the harbor,” Buicko said. “Right now we’re designing roads, water and sewer. Then we have to do the site plan. Then the individual building permits.”

The Schenectady City Council recently approved zoning changes for the site that enable Galesi to have buildings up to 110 feet tall, 19,000 square feet of signage and pylon signs up to 80 feet tall.

The next step is site plan approval, which Galesi plans to start next month. The site plan process with the Planning Commission will require the developer to disclose detailed designs of the overall project.

Gillen said there’s already a lot of interest in the site, from housing to office to retail.

“It’s going to be a large waterfront attraction,” he said. “This is a substantial development. This will bring business, recreation and economic development.”

Viccaro, Haley. “Army Corps of Engineers Signs off on Mohawk Harbor.” Daily Gazette [Schenectady] 26 Feb. 2015, Regional sec.: A1+. Print.