Steve Trueman said Thursday that an Aug. 22 Gazette story about his efforts to restore an old tug boat and barge and turn them into a floating museum, has resulted in a lot of public support.
Unfortunately, that story also may be leading to his eviction and the boats’ destruction.
Erin Agans, a spokeswoman for the New York State Canal Corp., confirmed Thursday that the Canal Corp. found out from the August article that Trueman was living on the tug. That’s against Canal Corp. regulations, she said, and he will have to move off the boat or move the boat off the canal.
Trueman, a gray-bearded 56-year-old with a ponytail, is a former commercial diver. He said he needs to live on the tug, both because he is then available to address structural problems that may suddenly arise in the middle of a cold winter night, and because he has few other alternatives. He also said he’s just doing what people who worked on tugs used to do.
Trueman spent last winter on the canal, in Waterford, but the Canal Corp. said it didn’t then realize he was living on the boat. He pays substantial rent to the Canal Corp., although his money is running out, but says he is hopeful that new funding sources will become available in the spring, if he can get through this winter.
The tug and barge are docked on the Mohawk River on the northeast side of the Crescent Bridge, which takes Route 9 across the river from Albany County into the Saratoga County town of Halfmoon. The 1957 tug used to work out of Albany, Trueman said. The barge, built in the 1930s for the Pennsylvania Railroad Co., was found in poor condition by Trueman and his then-partner in an abandoned Anaconda Wire & Cable Co. plant in Hastings-on-Hudson. He’s still working on restoring it.
Trueman was based downriver in Kingston, where he had big plans to establish a museum based on several historic vessels. Now he’s left with two, which he wants to turn into a museum here. He already shows people around them, and gave Corrina Navarette and her baby McKenzie a tour on Thursday. “I think we should put a petition and keep him here,” Navarette said.
At that time, 3 p.m., a working tug moved west on the river, pushing an empty barge that Trueman said would likely be filled with stone, gravel or mud. The canal runs in the river at Crescent and to the west.
Trueman displayed his boats in last month’s Tugboat Roundup in Waterford. The canal used to be full of working tugs and barges, he said, but there is little commercial or other traffic now.
If he’s forced away from Crescent by Nov. 15, when the canal is scheduled to close for the season, Trueman said he will have to scrap the two boats. His contract to buy the tugboat had a noncompete clause, meaning he can’t sell it to anyone else, so he said he plans to scrap both boats if the state turns him out — which he still hopes won’t happen.
Agans said the Canal Corp. can’t bend on the residency rule, but does not want to see the boats scrapped. She and Steve Sweeney, the Canal Corp.’s Albany Division engineer, said they have offered alternatives. Trueman confirmed that the state has offered to put the barge in its Waterford dry dock facility.
Sweeney said the tug boat also could spend the winter in Waterford. The canal goes around the Cohoes Falls in Waterford before joining the Mohawk River, and that section of it is drained in the winter. Trueman’s tug boat could rest on the bottom there, Sweeney said, or it could stay afloat in Waterford harbor.
Nelson Ronsvalle, a Halfmoon official who has dealt with Trueman and is active in the Mohawk Towpath Byway and the Shenendehowa Rotary, said the two boats are “an asset that makes our community unique and keeps heritage alive. It would be a shame” to lose them, he said.
Trueman issued a news release urging supporters to contact Gov. David Paterson. He said the Canal Corp. has undertaken needed reforms “due to massive administrative abuses at the highest levels 10 years past,” but he is not trying to do anything wrong and should not fall victim to heightened enforcement of rules.
The town of Halfmoon has just built a handicapped fishing access near where Trueman’s boats are docked, by the ruins of an aqueduct that took the old Erie Canal over the Mohawk. The access path links up under the bridge to a town park on the western side, and the town has started building another section of trail going southwest from the park.
A state historical marker says “Crescent was an important commercial center during the Erie Canal era.”