A 17-mile stretch of the Erie Canal will be closed for three weeks — and possibly longer — while contractors fill a large void discovered beneath the center pier of the movable dam at Lock 13.
A diver found the large hole carved out by moving water beneath the pier, one of three that support the structure, late Monday night, according to Canal Corp. spokesman Shane Mahar.
The pier on the southern end is currently being replaced, so the weight it bears is being held up by steel supports. The pier on the northern end is relatively new — it was replaced in 2010 as part of a $15.5 million rehabilitation project. The remaining pier in the center has a 13-by-14-foot hole beneath it. Work to fill it up began Tuesday, Mahar said.
Crews from Tioga Construction have been on the site since 2010 working on the rehabilitation project, which was set back by tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011. Late last week, they noticed water filling their workspace, which is separated from the river by coffer dams, so they attempted to fill the hole over the weekend. That effort failed, leading to an underwater inspection that revealed water swept away material beneath the dam’s support.
The discovery requires emergency repairs to ensure the 96-year-old movable dam is properly supported, a task that requires lowering water levels from Lock 12 to Lock 13. The unexpected closure will leave the Erie Canal impassable from either direction.
The movable dams along the Mohawk River are all considered “intermediate hazard” dams and undergo inspections every two to three years. Most had a thorough inspection following Irene and Lee, Mahar said.
Engineers from the Thruway and Canal Corp and a team from the Canal Corp’s design office have been on the scene planning steps in the process. Repairs described as “extensive” have to be done “very methodically,” Mahar said. One of the tasks includes expanding the size of one of the coffer dams to make room for the pier repair.
Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton, who is conducting annual tours of the canal system, called for patience in a statement Tuesday.
“We understand that this closure will be an inconvenience to those who utilize the Erie Canal in the Mohawk Valley; we are focusing all available resources on completing these necessary repairs and reopening the canal as soon as possible,” he said in the statement. “This work is being done for the safety of both the boating public and Canal Corporation employees.”