City seawall project going forward

The city of Dunkirk will go forward with the Lakefront Boulevard seawall replacement, but not without a lot of angst from Common Council members who had to give their approval. Two 4-1 votes gave approval to bond for $4.2 million for the project, along with hiring S. St. George Enterprises Inc. of Fredonia to do the work.

Council members Michael Michalski, William J. Rivera and Stacy Szukala had previously said they would support the bonding for the project, which required four votes for approval. Councilman Adelino Gonzalez, who had been a no vote in mid-afternoon, said a conversation with two businessmen changed his mind.

Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak was the no vote, citing numerous other expenses the city has and stating the project could be done in stages.

After a 30-minute mid-meeting recess to allow Szukala to be present for the vote, council members talked about the upcoming resolutions, which were considered out of the agenda order to allow the bonding to be considered before the hiring of the contractor.

Michalski began by recounting a conversation with his wife, who told him he was in a “no-win situation.”

He stated he was not proud of the conditions along Lakefront Boulevard and the seawall.

“I think our residents deserve a Lakefront Boulevard that they can be proud of, that they can go down there and use in a safe manner,” he added. “Right now, there’s rebar sticking out, there’s sidewalks that are going every which way. It’s not safe.”

Michalski went on to state the city has many other needs as well but the wall “will not get better by itself.”

Rivera said he figured out what it would cost him on both his home and the other properties he owns in the city.

“Listening to what Mike said, we’re in a lose-lose situation. If we ignore it we’re going to get blamed for ignoring it. If we pass the thing our taxes are going to go up,” Rivera explained. “I guess the bottom line for me was that I want to be part of the council that was responsible for improvement of it, not just pushing it off until next spring, or pushing it off until the next council. That’s just not what I want to be remembered for.”

He added the cost would be “more than worth it.”

Gonzalez said the seawall should have been addressed by prior administrations but it was talks with two business people Tuesday that moved him to vote yes.

“One told me it’s something you’re either going to fix it now, or pay more later, which do we do. It’s in bad shape. It’s in a condition where for safety reasons it’s not safe to be down there,” he explained, adding his wife told him he was on his own to decide. “It’s been put off for so many years if we don’t do that now who knows what’s going to happen?”

Szukala said city officials have either ignored or used a band-aid approach to the wall for the past 20 or 30 years, adding the current council has been talking about it for more than four years. She added the majority of residents she has talked to said it’s up to council to act to fix the wall so it lasts for years to come.

“There will never be a perfect time to spend an estimated $4 million. However, Dunkirk’s been given several grant opportunities to help us with the seawall project. If we decide today not to go forward, not only will we lose the monetary grant but we will leaving a much-needed project to the next group of officials to deal with,” she stated. “By doing that they will be starting from the beginning, losing engineering costs, with a costly price tag, permit fees and grant opportunities. There is no doubt that a few more harsh winters will add additional cost to that repair.”

Kiyak began her prepared statement by saying “I have been thinking about this more than just yesterday or today.” She listed the city’s problems and the expense involved to fix them, along with future financial concerns.

“If we are going to raise taxes, it should be to replace our aging water infrastructure. The county is looking to the city to be the major provider of water to nine surrounding municipalities. To me, this is a much larger priority than a mostly cosmetic fix to a beachfront wall,” she began in closing her remarks. “Last night at the finance meeting, the mayor assured the committee that there were budget lines that could be reduced to pay for this project, perhaps avoiding bonding altogether. If this is the case, why are we moving forward with this project and not seriously exploring the lines the mayor claims can be reduced? Why is this council in a rush to raise taxes and sewer rates? These grants are good through the end of 2015, which gives us plenty of time to reevaluate before taking this drastic step.”

She had one more thing to add.

“If it passes I believe that the next prudent step would be to undertake a citywide tax revaluation of all city housing stock, beginning with the First Ward, whose residents will reap the most benefit with this new wall. It’s time for this to be undertaken, especially since the last time it was done was in 1996.”

Mayor Anthony J. Dolce talked about the project prior to the vote during his report time, stating he understood the concerns about the expense, but two engineering firms, along with the city engineer and a state engineering representative have deemed the wall to have significant structural issues that need remediation.

“I also understand there are other monetary issues and infrastructure concerns in need of our attention and there’s never an opportune time to invest $3.9 million, but tonight Common Council has the opportunity to address one of those significant infrastructure needs. If not enough votes are present we will still have a wall to address and no funding to address these numerous safety issues,” he stated. “From my perspective I do not classify the seawall project as us just fixing a wall, but transforming our lakefront area, including Wright Park, with the proposed amenities we hope to have in 2015.”

After the meeting Dolce said the bid, which was the lowest of three submitted, was higher than expected.

“When you look at the pros of proceeding versus not, it made sense to move forward at this point. Even with the higher bid that kind of grant money doesn’t come around very often. That’s not something we want to risk losing.”

The project is slated to begin shortly, starting at the Main Street end, according to Dolce.

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