The State Canal Corp. hasn’t performed required in-depth inspections on various structures for years, increasing the risk to the 524-mile canal system, boaters and nearby residents, New York auditors reported Tuesday.
The subsidiary of the state Thruway Authority is required to perform routine checks of the 2,065 structures in the system, which includes the Erie Canal. The audit said 747, including dams and locks, are considered critical, but the corporation hasn’t done as many in-depth safety inspections as required on a two-year cycle.
“Because the canal system depends on aging hydraulic structures and includes many other structures that are exposed to the elements, regular inspections are essential to ensure safety,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. “Canal officials should immediately seek all available funding for infrastructure repair, make sure all inspections are getting done and the system’s greatest repair needs are being met.”
Corporation director Bryan Stratton, in a response April 30 to an audit draft, said the agency would inspect all structures of high and intermediate importance as soon as possible. They are refining a computer system to prioritize and manage inspections, he wrote.
The corporation is pursuing an agreement with the Department of Transportation to take responsibility for inspecting the system’s bridges, will evaluate its maintenance and capital plans with the Thruway Authority, and seek all available funds for repairs, Stratton wrote.
“We believe that any discussion of the canal system should acknowledge that most of the system’s structures date from nearly 100 years ago, and some structures from the enlarged canal era (1836-1862) such as feeders and dams are still in use today,” the canal Corp. director wrote. “It is also important to note that while extreme weather has forced prolonged closures of the Canal system on several occasions in recent years, there have been no extended closures due to operational or structural issues over this period.”
The comptroller’s auditors reported that 832 of 1,068 structures requiring below-water inspections did not receive them within five years, 692 never had them and only 114 had received them within the past two years. They noted that board meeting records from June said only about 55 percent of the canal system’s critical structures were in good condition in recent years due to funding constraints.
“The continued safe operation of New York’s canal system after nearly two centuries is the best indication of the Canal Corporation’s successful inspection and maintenance programs,” spokesman Shane Mahar said Tuesday.
The improvements already planned include spending $28 million to rehabilitate the movable dams in the Mohawk Valley and $8.5 million to install a flood warning system for the Mohawk, Oswego and upper Hudson river basins, Mahar said.