City approved for second river walk grant

BERLIN — It has taken 15 years, but patience and persistence have paid off for the city and its dream of a river walk.

Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme told the city council Monday night that the N.H. Department of Transportation has approved Berlin’s grant application for $688,000 in federal Transportation Alternatives Program funds. The city must provide a 20 percent match or $172,000, which Laflamme said the city hopes to at least partially meet with funding from the Route 16 upgrade project.

Last fall, the city received a $250,000 grant from the federal Northern Borders Regional Commission for the river walk.

Combined, the two grants will allow the city to build a river walk from the Service Credit Union Heritage Park to the 12th Street Bridge.

A river walk was first proposed in 2002 by then City Engineer and Public Works Director James Wheeler with an initial estimated cost of $2.3 million. A design by Wright-Pierce Engineering calling for a 10-foot multi-use trail made of bituminous concrete, lighting, benches, interpretative signs, a canoe launch, and fishing areas increased the price tag to $3.9 million.

In a follow-up interview, Laflamme said the city unsuccessfully applied several times for grants over the years, paring down some of the elements to get the initial walk built. The city can add components later as money becomes available.

Thomas Jameson, project manager for DOT’s Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance, said the bureau received 46 applications seeking $26.6 million in TAP funds. Berlin’s application was one of 12 approved for funding, with a total of $6.9 million awarded.

He said the projects must go to the governor and Executive Council for final approval, which he estimated will occur in late February or early March.

Once approved, he said the city must execute an agreement with DOT and then go through a selection process to hire a consultant to design the project. The consultant and city will develop a scope and fee for the river walk before any billable work can begin.

While the Northern Borders grant is for the section from the park to the pedestrian bridge and the TAP funds are for the remainder of the walk, Laflamme said the city would likely follow the same process for both and hire a consultant to design the entire project. She said the city hopes to get the work underway this summer to dovetail with the Route 16 work.

Given the competition for the funding, Laflamme was pleased the city was selected as one of the recipients. Noting that the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce annually hosts some large events at the park, she said the river walk will help increase its role as a gathering spot for the city. The river walk will also accent the attractiveness and recreational value of the Androscoggin River as it winds through the center of the city.