Irene: Raging waters close canals

A 100-mile stretch of the Erie Canal between Frankfort and Waterford remains closed for at least a w

A 100-mile stretch of the Erie Canal between Frankfort and Waterford remains closed for at least a week because of high water and storm damage to moveable dams and locks caused by Hurricane Irene, according to the state Canal Corp.

“The damage is extensive from Lock 13 to Lock 8,” said Canal Corp. spokesman R.W. Groneman. The closure affects locks E-19 to E-2.

The Canal Corp. also closed the entire Champlain Canal because of high water; that part of the state system runs from north of Waterford to Whitehall, about 60 miles.

Groneman put the estimated cost of the damage in the millions. He said the canal will likely bond for the cost of the repairs, as they are major capital projects. “Our credit rating is good,” he said.

Groneman said fast-moving water on the Mohawk River, which incorporates the state’s canal system, on Monday swept away several houses at locks 9 and 11 and the powerhouse at Lock 10. Gates at locks 11 and 12, used to control the flow of the Mohawk River, were also damaged. Lock 10, east of Amsterdam, lost most of its gates and is inoperable, he said.

“The force and the violence of the water is a concern. The water is carrying a lot of debris — logs, boulders and flotsam — that come down the stream with great force and crash into our equipment and structures,” Groneman said. The high water also damaged, severed and swept away power connections to the locks.

On Monday, the New York Power Authority declared a “Type B” emergency, the lower of two categories, at a hydroelectric plant it operates near Lock 7 in Niskayuna.

Groneman said the authority issued the alert after roiling river water began to erode the earthen front of the Vischer Ferry Power Dam. Workers dumped tons of rock onto the eroded area, helping to stabilize it. The authority then called off the emergency.

Groneman said closure of the Erie Canal will mean lost revenue, although he was unable to provide an estimate on Tuesday. “The greater issue is our private partners, the marinas, restaurants and others who make a living on canal tourism and recreation.”

Michael LaBelle of the Crescent Boat Club in Colonie said the closure will affect the club’s annual Labor Day Weekend event. “We will still have our event, but some of the boats from other clubs will not be able to attend,” he said. “We are disappointed that the canal will be closed, but we were fortunate we did not lose anything.”

Monday’s flooding affected the Water’s Edge Lighthouse, which abuts the Mohawk River on Freemans Bridge Road in Glenville. High water crested a 10-foot embankment and flooded the restaurant’s parking lot and several nearby buildings. The extent of the damage was unknown as no one answered the phone at the facility Tuesday.

Groneman said dozens of boats were left stranded Monday and Tuesday at the Waterford Flight of locks because of the closure. “Before the storm hit, we announced Waterford flight would be safe harbor to get out of storm,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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