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July 23, 2016
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Esplanade plan dates back 20 years; design phase moves forward

The plan to build an esplanade behind the shops on Main Street has been on the drawing board for a couple of decades. In the offices at the Tusten Town Hall, there are a series of sketches, which were part of a study called the Big Eddy Waterfront Revitalization Program.

The study was done by planning consultant Tom Shepstone in 1996, and paid for by funds from the Upper Delaware Council. The aim of the study was to illustrate how to better connect Main Street with the Upper Delaware River, and an esplanade, or boardwalk, was one of the featured components.

Actually, according to Laurie Stuart, publisher of The River Reporter, the plan goes even further back than that. A woman who worked at in the Sullivan County Planning Department in the 1980s did some work regarding the revitalization of the Big Eddy, but documents related to that time could not be located.

The latest development in the project is that the Tusten Town Board voted at the meeting on March 20 to hire the Chazen Companies to do the design and engineering phase of the project at a cost of about $154,000 of which $77,000 is coming from a grant, and the rest coming from the town.

The grant was applied for in 2009, and it was announced that it had been received on January 4, 2010. At the time that the grant was applied for, the Town of Tusten was carrying a substantial budget surplus and, in fact, the auditors at the time advised then-supervisor Ben Johnson that it was not a good practice to have such a large surplus.

However, having the surplus allowed the town to demonstrate to the NYS Department of State Office of Communities and Waterfronts that it could provide the necessary matching funds, if the town received the grant.

Johnson said the only reason the town was able to move ahead with the grant application was because of the study done more than a decade earlier, which meant that the town had a Local Waterfront Project already in place.

The town set aside the money for the project in 2009, and $53,150 of it is now in a line item in the budget called Economic Opportunity Grants. Supervisor Carol Wingert said the rest of the money would come from the general fund or from in-kind services. She said, for instance, that she and council person Andrea Reynosa have spent a good deal of time working on the project, and that time would count as in-kind service.

Still, some have expressed concern about spending town money on the project at this time. Wingert said while the project is being designed over the next year or so, her office would be writing grant applications as the various design aspects become available. She said of future grants and funding, “If we obtain them, then we can build, if we don’t, then we put off building. We can’t afford to lay that burden on our taxpayers at all.”

Some have also expressed concerns that the town does not have all the easements in place to build the esplanade and amphitheater. Wingert said an effort to acquire those easements would be made during the design phase. She also said it is possible that the project could be done in phases. Therefore, the 100-seat amphitheater planned for the space where the deck is now located and reaching down the hill, is probably the most expensive part of the plan, and may be put off until last. The cost of the entire project has been estimated at anywhere from $700,000 to $2 million.

But, one way or another, Wingert clearly plans to press on. She said, “We’ve had this idea going for more than 20 years now, if it takes another 20 years to build it, then so be it, but first you need the design.”