Tonawanda News — The City of Tonawanda unveiled its new custom designed police patrol boat Wednesday morning at a press conference behind City Hall.
The project, which took more than a year to complete, cost about $200,000 total, but most of the expense was covered by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant — which provided the city with $139,500. The sale of the city’s two jet skis and the old police boat brought in an additional $24,470 toward the purchase.
“This was pretty much born completely from the grant money, and our priority is to thank the federal government for allowing this project to happen,” Mayor Ron Pilozzi said at Wednesday’s event.
Pilozzi also thanked police Lt. Scott Sheehan, who wrote the grant application and managed the purchase. SAFE Boats, which is based near Seattle, built the vessel, and police officers traveled across the country to make sure it met the specifications.
The 27-foot boat is equipped with two twin motors and has the capability to travel at speeds of 60 mph, Sheehan said. The department’s old boat, which was only 21 feet long, couldn’t travel in the lake as a result of its smaller size.
“This gets us to emergencies quicker, and it gets us out further into the lake,” Sheehan said.
The boat also has SONAR technology, which allows police to see what is under the water, as well as thermal imaging technology, which makes it easier to see what’s around the boat in the dark. The vessel is designed for rough waters, and is ready to go 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We have personnel on every shift that are trained to use it,” Sheehan said.
The boat is used for a variety of purposes, and Pilozzi stressed the city’s proximity to the Canadian border.
“It is important to recognize our own unique position along the waterway, even though we may be the smallest community along the Niagara River,” he said. “We are working hand in hand with Homeland Security to keep our residents safe.”
Sheehan said the boat is necessary to patrol the river, where many spend a great deal of time during the summer.
“We are using it for the safety of our residents on their own boats, jet skis, water skis ... and to ensure compliance with state and local laws,” Sheehan said. “The water is another patrol area for us.”
The city’s dive team has also been training on the boat, and boat is fully equipped to be used for rescue and recovery missions. Sheehan said the team was very pleased with the new vessel — noting the lights on the bottom of the boat and doors on the sides that allow the divers to come in and out.
The press conference concluded with a blessing of the new boat, and Pilozzi also thanked the politicians in attendance who wrote letters of support for the project — including state Sen. Mark Grisanti, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick, Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana, Town of Grand Island Supervisor Mary Cooke, North Tonawanda Fire Chief John Lapham and Tonawanda Fire Chief Chuck Stuart.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand also wrote a letter of support.
“This state-of-the-art patrol boat will allow City of Tonawanda personnel to increase port surveillance during heavily attended special events like Canal Fest, and enhance the department’s capability to respond to emergencies in the community,” she wrote.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley