Turners Falls receives $2.1M grant to replace 5th Street pedestrian bridge

  • Rep. Natalie Blais D-Sunderland, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Michael Kennealy and state Sen. Jo Comerford D-Northampton, talk about redevelopment of the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tom Cusano, new owner of the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls, addresses those gathered Tuesday morning. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis greets those gathered for a grant announcement at the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Michael Kennealy announces aid in the form of a new pedestrian bridge and sewer service near the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The former Southworth/Esleck paper mill sits between the Connecticut River and the power canal in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Slurry pits in the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The huge paper making machine in the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Warehouse space in the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Warehouse space in the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Warehouse space in the former Southworth paper mill in Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2019 10:06:36 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The failed 5th Street pedestrian bridge is expected to be completely replaced by this time next year.

A $2.1 million state grant that was officially announced on Tuesday will cover almost all of the project; relatively minor costs associated with the grant application were paid by the town. Construction is expected in summer 2020.

The pedestrian bridge (the smaller brown bridge next to the green vehicle bridge) has been closed since August 2017, when the state Department of Transportation found that it was not up to code.

The lack of easy pedestrian access between the mill buildings along the Connecticut River and the parking lots on the other side of the power canal has been seen by town officials as a major obstacle to redevelopment of the industrial canal district.

The replacement of the bridge coincides with new activity at the former Southworth paper mill, the largest and most prominent of the canal district mills. Southworth went out of business in 2017, and the building has been unused since then. Now, real estate developer Tom Cusano expects to finalize a purchase of the building within the next week, and is in talks with potential tenants.

Town officials expect these developments to generate more interest and more economic activity throughout the canal district.

At a press conference Tuesday morning in the Southworth building, Town Administrator Steve Ellis noted that the canal district and Turners Falls have historically been an economic hub of this region, and likened the pedestrian bridge to “a pathway between this building’s promise and the rest of our community.”

The town’s role, he said, has been to support businesses in the district. While the new activity is welcome news, he noted that work is still continuing.

“I wore my hiking boots today not only because I knew it was going to snow, but because I knew it would be the beginning of a long journey,” Ellis said.

The $2.1 million grant was presented by state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Michael Kennealy. The money comes through a program called MassWorks, which often targets public infrastructure that facilitates private business development, Kennealy said. The program is competitive, and awards are decided based on the potential impact of the project and the viability of the town’s larger planning strategy.

“What MassWorks really funds is community,” Kennealy said.

The grant covers not only the replacement of the bridge itself, but also sidewalks on surrounding streets and sewer lines to the mill buildings.

Curtis Sherrer, who owns 42 Canal St., which houses Buckingham Rabbits Vintage and the Local Yoga Joint, said he expects the new bridge to have a major impact on the viability of the canal district as a whole.

“Getting the bridge and the sewer is the spark that’s going to set it on fire,” Sherrer said.




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