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Irene: Canal locks swamped; hydro dam alert prompts concern

Irene: Canal locks swamped; hydro dam alert prompts concern

Several locks spent the day entirely submerged, including Lock 8 in Rotterdam and Lock 11-E in Amste

Water roared over Erie Canal locks and dug new paths on either side of the steel walls, but didn’t succeed in knocking any of them down Monday.

Several locks spent the day entirely submerged, including Lock 8 in Rotterdam and Lock 11-E in Amsterdam. At least two lock houses were badly damaged as well.

But the only real question of stability appeared to be at Lock 7 in Niskayuna, where a hydroelectric dam was in danger.

The lock itself was secure, but water began to seep through a portion of the earthen embankment at the Vischer Ferry dam.

The state Power Authority, which maintains the dam, announced its lowest-level alert because of the situation. As the day wore on, agency officials gave out no further information, leaving emergency responders and the Canal Corporation in the dark.

One spokesperson even asked The Daily Gazette to pass along a message to the Power Authority: Call us!

In response to the alert, Schenectady County evacuated 30 houses near the lock. Hours later, Colonie evacuated a much larger area on the guess that conditions at the dam were deteriorating. But no one knew for sure.

“We began to receive conflicting reports from other agencies that the dam was about to breach,” said Colonie Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Rayball. “Later, we heard the Power Authority had been having internal discussions as to whether to upgrade that alert. At that point, we made the decision.”

He asked residents on 19 streets to evacuate.

“I can understand the Power Authority not wishing to alarm people,” he said. “We felt that we wanted to act proactively.”

The problem was that if the dam failed, a sudden flood of water could cut off the residents near the river before anyone could warn them to get out.

“We wouldn’t have time,” said Schenectady County spokesman Joseph McQueen. “We don’t want people to be stuck down there.”

The Canal Corporation sent equipment to help shore up the leaking portion of the dam. That work continued through the evening.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” McQueen said.

The Canal Corporation said its locks were secure. Workers closed the gates to keep debris from getting into the locks.

Logs smashed into the walls of the locks instead, but that wasn’t as bad as letting them inside, spokesman R.W. Groneman said.

“They can jam up the locks. Jamming up the locks is very bad,” he said.

Some locks took a beating.

Part of the lock gate at Lock 11-E was pushed forward by the weight of tons of trees and other debris, as well as surging water. But the lock remained standing.

The lock house at Lock 9 in Rotterdam Junction was destroyed by water that drove around the sides of the lock. The lock house at Lock 8 was seriously damaged and lost a wall.

The Canal Corporation also lost a barge that had been used to dredge mud and debris from the canal channel. The barge had been docked and tied down for the storm. But as the water rose, it pulled free of its mooring and was pushed, unmanned, down the river.

No one could get to it in the rushing water and it was nearly swept into the base of the Twin Bridges, which carry the Northway over the river. The bridges were shut down as a precaution, but the barge safely beached itself on a sand bar.

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