The state Canal Corp. has reversed its decision to drastically reduce operating hours in the face of fierce opposition from the public.
Locks and lift bridges will now be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for most of the season, officials announced Monday.
The initial plan announced last month called for peak hours of 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in an effort to save almost $1 million for the state Thruway Authority, of which the Canal Corp. is part.
However, during public hearings since the March 19 announcement, local communities, boaters and business owners have spoken out against the reduced hours.
Under the current plan, the Canal Corp. will instead shave $435,000 off of its budget by suspending the Green Thumb program, which gives low-income seniors groundskeeping jobs at various canal locations.
“This particular proposal still calls for a reduction in the seasonal program, but not as substantial as the prior reduction,” said Canal Corp. Executive Director Carmella Mantello.
“Times are very difficult at the Thruway Authority right now.”
The Canal Corp. will hire about 160 seasonal workers this year, 22 fewer than it did last year. The plan announced last month called for 85 fewer seasonal hires.
“We’re tightening our belts, but at the same time, the hearings took place and the public process happened,” Mantello said. “The community and the businesses all stepped up to the plate.”
Dick Hurst, the harbor master at the Port of Waterford, said he is in favor of the new plan. The Port of Waterford doubles as a visitors center and Hurst is a town employee.
“It’s very important to us to have the commercial and pleasure traffic on the canal,” Hurst said. “Without it, then you might as well close everything down and go home. That’s what we’re here for.”
He said businesses near the harbor rely on boat traffic during peak summer months.
“When you look on the commercial side of it, these guys are moving all of these big cargos,” he added. “They need the time to go. They need the 12, 14 hours to run.”
Chris Gardella, a port captain with Port of Albany Ventures, said he spoke out against the original plan at a recent public hearing in Colonie.
Gardella helps dispatch and schedule tug deliveries as the company transports various bulk materials throughout the state canal system.
“[The revised operating hours are] obviously a good thing, not only for my company, but it’s better for the people of the state,” he said. “Moving material by barge, you use less fuel. It’s more efficient; there’s less pollution.”
Last year, the operating hours from May 15 to Sept. 15 were 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The updated plan calls for the locks and lift bridges to be open during those hours this year from May 23 to Sept. 3.
Off-peak operating hours, from May 1 to May 22 and from Sept. 4 to Nov. 15, will be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mantello said the decision to increase the operating hours over the original plan was made recently under the direction of Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael Fleischer.
“He heard loud and clear the call that these hours could have a potentially devastating impact on community events and commercial tug barge operations,” Mantello said.
The current plan still calls for boat tolls for the first time since 2005.
Recreational boats under 16 feet long will pay $25 for a season pass, $12.50 for a 10-day pass or $5 for a 2-day pass. Larger vessels will pay higher rates. Tugboats and barges pay an annual fee of $750.
About $80 million is spent by the Thruway Authority every year to operate the Canal Corp.
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Categories: Schenectady County