Irene: Storm-damaged canal to be reopened Sunday

On Sunday, boats will finally be allowed to move along a 55-mile stretch of the Erie Canal that has

Reopening the badly damaged Erie Canal simply didn’t seem plausible in the weeks that followed the late-summer flooding that wreaked havoc on the stretch between Little Falls and Schenectady.

The raging Mohawk River carved new channels around the canal’s debris-choked dams. Floodwater swept away a building at one lock and blew out parts of the moveable dam at another.

But state officials insisted they’d mend the canal by Thanksgiving, so boat traffic trapped in western parts of New York could finally move east. And they’re staying true to their promise, even opening the damaged section four days earlier than expected.

On Sunday, boats will finally be allowed to move along a 55-mile stretch of the canal that has remained closed since Tropical Storm Irene struck. The reopening will be limited to the Erie Canal from the Hudson River to the Syracuse area and the Oswego Canal from Syracuse north to Lake Ontario.

Ironically, the rest of the state’s canal system closed for the season on Monday. As such, the reopened sections will only remain open for two weeks before closing again until the spring.

Canal Corp. Executive Director Brian Stratton credited the reopening to the many dedicated state workers and contractors who worked tirelessly on repairs. He said the early reopening will allow boaters to return to their destinations before Thanksgiving.

“With luck, many of our stranded marine customers will be home for the holiday,” he said in a statement released Wednesday.

Getting the canal open is expected to cost about $20 million, which will be paid for through the agency’s bonded reserve. But the full repair cost won’t be known for some time.

Workers hauled away an estimated 15,000 tons of debris that was loaded on more than 100 barges. Extensive dredging was required to remove deposits of gravel and silt that had filled the navigation channels.

The canal suffered a one-two punch from Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. State workers were just six days into the cleanup from Irene when Lee came through and caused even more damage.

The battered canal left stranded a tugboat in the Albany area destined for Michigan, two cruise ships in the Utica area headed for port in Rhode Island, and several large yachts on the Great Lakes trying to reach the Hudson River for points south. These vessels will now have until Dec. 3 to reach their destinations.

The canal reopening will mean some marinas along the Mohawk may see some unexpected business in the coming weeks. Greg Schwartz, vice commodore of the Crescent Boat Club in Halfmoon, said his marina would typically close for the season by the third week of October. But with the prospect of the canal reopening, the club’s volunteers decided to keep their docks out a bit longer.

Now, the water levels are back to normal, and the club is expecting to see a few boaters meander by.

“I wish I could tell you how many,” he said Wednesday. “The estimate was anywhere between zero and 150.”

Keeping the marina open isn’t costing the club much. Schwartz said they’re all volunteers and look forward to helping fellow boaters out if they’re in need of food or fuel.

“We’re all just part of the boating family,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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