The Herald News, Saturday, December 12, 2015 – Page A1

By Michael Holtzman
Email: mholtzman@heraldnews.com

Fall River – The surface is smooth and strong and hard as concrete.

There’s lots of it and virtually the entire three-quarter mile of boardwalk replaced along the water’s edge, looking out at the gray hulking ships in Battleship Cove, has reopened to the public.

“This is beautiful!” shouted an older man in a gray sweatshirt wearing earbuds at a group that included a state engineer overseeing the project.

“It’s nice, fresh air. This is the best thing ever done for us,” said an enthused Delfino Leonardo of Birch Street, who emigrated from the Azores as a teenager and has walked along the boardwalk for years.

It was his day off from working on fiberglass boats in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and the city resident had a special treat besides temperatures in the high 50s two weeks before Christmas.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation had just reopened a portion of the boardwalk nearly twice the length of two football fields between the community boathouse to nearly the Heritage State Park Visitors’ Center.

It was one of two key portions of the project on the southern end ready for public access by today.

The other is the much-used footbridge from the parking lot to the visitors’ center and boardwalk that’s been closed for the past two months while crews raised the pilings and oval pitch 2 feet over the Quequechan River outlet.

Leonardo said he’d picked up a piece of the unique purple heart Souther African tropical wood that encompasses some 30,000 square feet of replaced boardwalk of the $3.5 million project.

“It’s so heavy, it’s like a rock,” he said in astonishment, having picked up a wood scrap.

You can walk at night with the lights. It’s beautiful. The lights are so bright it’s like daytime,” Leonardo said. “So many people walk here.”

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is so cool,” gushed Ruth Steger, unsolicited, to the DCR engineer.

Walking briskly toward the visitors’ center with her husband, Jim, who wore bright orange sneakers more sparkly than his matching orange sweatshirt, the Stegers, of North Main Street near Freetown, said they were thrilled to see the nearly full expanse of the boardwalk open.

“You don’t have to worry much about tripping anymore,” said Ruth, a retired teacher, on their daily walk. “They’ve just done a great job, and the men (and a few women) working here are extremely nice, and it’s a nice thing that they would open it up.”

The end is near on what had been a scheduled nine-month project bid back in January, but got into gear a few months late from the winter’s wrath, said Kevin Mooney, DCR senior waterways engineer.

“It should be substantially completed by the end of the year,” Mooney said Friday.

He said elevating the pedestrian bridge and the boardwalk encircling from the front of the visitor center to the Taunton River would alleviate flooding during high tides.

“We brought the level up 2 feet so we won’t have that problem anymore,” he said.

The silver metal fencing that’s separated boardwalk lovers from the approximately 3,000-foot expanse from the Cove restaurant, built in 1982 with a small section in 1987, has been removed in stages as sections of the replaced walkways have been reopened to the public.

As one walks from the main parking lot over the approximately 150-foot pedestrian bridge, the redone ramped concrete walkway to the eastern side of the building, meeting the boardwalk, will be open today, connecting near a wide open area workers have dubbed “the dance floor,” Mooney said.

The circular boardwalk going to the west side and behind the building won’t be completed and opened for another couple of weeks, Mooney said.

He estimated approximately $120,000 in additional costs from the $3,418,860 bid awarded 11 months ago to Barletta Heavy Division, the company performing the nearby Route 79/Braga Bridge Improvements Project, which is more than half completed.

A good portion of the extra cost was related to a timber retaining wall and deck DCR condemned after the project began and has been replaced with a textured concrete block wall separating the boathouse from the boardwalk.

The DCR resident engineer, Matt Grosschedl, let a Herald News reporter and photographer access on Friday the full site and showed the boardwalk work.

The 25 benches, five more than previously installed, made of composite material, is among many upgrades, Mooney said. He noted how north of the visitors’ center there are several pairs of benches with a purple heart wood plank installed in between. The extra wood serves to stabilize the wheels of wheelchairs.

As he had I prior interviews, Mooney raved about the South African timbers.

“The old boardwalk was very spongy and springy. That’s gone,” he said. “we shouldn’t have to do any maintenance for at least 50 years.”

The full completion of the project is expected by approximately April 30. It will allow for the contractor to install the lawn irrigation system and complete landscaping and grass planting in the early spring, Mooney said.

He noted how north of ths project, the boardwalk and benches continue to restored Bicentennial Park and the Commonwealth Landing site. Looking ahead, city and state officials and business leaders have been eyeing the boardwalk extension further north to the Veterans Memorial Bridge, Mooney acknowledged.

With their combined efforts, he said, “This is going to draw people down to the waterfront, we hope, and take in the natural resources and beautiful views we have up the river.”

For Donna Camara of Fall River, standing at the new wooden handrail at the water’s edge, sipping a soft drink, being on the reopened part of the boardwalk brought her back to being a kid living nearby at what was called Harbor Terrace.

“I swam in the water maybe 20, 30 years ago. We’d jump off the wall,” she said.

Looking out to Big Mamie at Battleship Cove, she remembered being little. “I was here the day that came in. Fifty years ago, right? We sat on the wall watching them come in,” she said smiling.