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BoatUS questions work stoppage on the Erie Canal

by Scott Croft 21 Apr 23:02 PDT
With the New York Power Authority remaining silent, it's unknown when Lock 33 near Rochester and seven other locks will open for 2020 Erie Canal navigation season. © BoatUS

The New York State Canal System has long been recognized as essential transportation infrastructure, important to irrigation and flood control, the upstate economy, and communities that line its 524-mile length.

However, the Canal Corporation's parent agency, New York Power Authority (NYPA), ordered a work stoppage in March that has left eight canal locks dry with repair projects incomplete. This not only threatens this year's May 15 opening but also could have lasting consequences.

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), the national advocacy, services and safety group with more than 600,000 members — 39,000 in the Empire State alone — supports efforts by canal advocates to seek answers from NYPA about why essential infrastructure is not being maintained and when the work will resume so that negative impacts on navigation and communities can be minimized.

An April 14 article in The Buffalo News, "With Erie Canal Boating Season in Jeopardy, Business Owners, Officials Voice Concerns," reported that workers were sent home March 17, and lock projects from Lockport to Whitehall, typically part of annual routine winter maintenance, could take up to 60 days to complete.

Said BoatUS Vice President of Public Affairs Scott Croft, "For nearly 200 years, the New York State Canal System has been essential transportation infrastructure. We'd like to know why maintenance activity has been allowed to stop while construction activities on the state's trail system, parks and roads continue. The canal system is not only a critical waterway for recreational boaters, but also to the full recovery of New York State. It's an economic engine for upstate communities from May through October, and its vital to have as much of the season as possible. We are hoping with the Governor Cuomo's recent April 19 executive order 202.96 to open marinas as essential will help encourage NYPA to act now to get the waterway ready for the season."

Added Croft, "We can't allow the system to fall behind. We don't want the stoppage to potentially create a false choice down the road in which reduced water depth or minimized navigation is justified by a lack of scheduled maintenance. If the locks remain dry, there will be regions of the canal where recreational boaters and commercial vessels will not be able to navigate, directly affecting local economies." Lock E23 in Brewerton, traditionally one of the busiest locks on the canal, is affected by the work stoppage. Other locks affected include E34/E35 (Lockport); E33 (Rochester), E26 (Clyde), E19 (Schuyler) E13 (Yosts), E7 (Niskayuna) and C12 (Whitehall).

Recreational boating contributes an $8.4 billion economic impact to New York, the third largest boating economy in the nation behind Florida and California. New York State recreational boating supports more than 2,300 businesses and provides nearly 40,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state. There are 444,103 registered boats in New York.

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