Damage keeps Erie Canal closed
Crews replace gates that took hits from high water, debris
MOHAWK VALLEY Contractors are working overtime to repair damage caused by last week’s storms to the movable gates that dam the Mohawk River from Glenville to Fort Plain.
Despite last week’s success opening the gates as the river rose to prevent flooding, workers inspecting the dams found many components were bent out of shape by both the pressure of the fast-moving water and debris, including trees, that smashed into the framework of the movable dams.
Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton issued a statement Thursday afternoon lauding canal workers for getting the rest of the system open within a week.
As forecasts for rain turned into flood watches and then warnings last week, the Canal Corp. lowered water levels to a foot below typical navigation levels, then by another foot last Thursday.
Rainfall continued and, with the National Weather Service calling for a 10-year precipitation event, officials decided to fully open the system between Lock 8 in Glenville and Lock 5 in Fort Plain, essentially pulling all the gear out of the river to let the water flow freely and provide capacity to hold additional water without overflowing the banks.
Sections of the canal to the east and west of these locks were reopened by Wednesday, as were portions of the Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain and Oswego canals. But workers are dealing with a complicated set of issues between locks 8 and 15, and it’s unclear how long it will be before boaters stranded at Lock 11 in Amsterdam will be able to move on.
“Canal Corporation employees have been working around the clock to adjust water levels and repair damage incurred during last week’s storms, and as of [Thursday morning] a vast majority of the system is open to boaters,” Stratton said in the statement.
He said the remaining section of the Erie Canal will be opened “as soon as possible.”
Among the stranded boaters are Ken and Trudy Price of Ontario and their dog, Mellow.
They were en route to Ontario from Florida and cruising west on the Mohawk River when the canal was shut down due to high water.
The couple and their yacht, Satisfaction, were moved inside the lock structure at Lock 11 last week, along with other boats, for their own protection.
Price said he’s hearing from Canal Corp. officials they might be able to get under way by Wednesday.
“It’s obviously frustrating, but it’s nobody’s fault. You’ve just got to do the best you can, and we’re in no rush. That’s part of boating, that’s part of cruising,” he said.
For now, Price said they’re being taken care of. He said the Canal Corp. brought in a generator so big it could “probably run Manhattan,” in addition to providing water and pump-out services.
Sufficient electricity enables the couple to leave their dog safely inside the boat with some air conditioning.
He said his yacht has been completely safe and remains undamaged inside the lock.
“The hospitality of the town and the city has been tremendous. People have come by and offered us rides,” Price said.
“I wonder if people in Amsterdam that we’ve met on the streets are as nice to their neighbors. If they are, it’s one heck of a place to live. The kindness and the support we’ve gotten has been tremendous,” he said.
Last week’s rainfall marked another highlight in the early days of a hurricane season that began unofficially in late May with tornadoes touching down in Schoharie, Montgomery, Schenectady and Saratoga counties. The outcome for the canal system was bittersweet, however.
Following more than $40 million in damage the system sustained from tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to support a $28 million rehabilitation project to strengthen the movable dam structures.
During a tour of damaged facilities Thursday, Canal Corp. hydrologist Howard Goebel said the reinforcement project is in its early stages, but all the new parts that have been reinforced were able to withstand the force of the water, as planned.
Last week’s severe rainfall and resultant heavy flow in the Mohawk River bent some of the steel uprights and damaged the brackets that hold them to the movable dam bridges and also damaged bearings the massive steel gates ride on.
One bright spot in the situation is the fact that two contractors, Troy-based C.D. Perry & Sons and Tioga Construction of Herkimer, were already staged along the system, working on the post-Irene flood mitigation project. The contractors re-adjusted their schedules following last week’s storms.
Goebel said Thursday that instead of getting the uprights fixed and reinstalled, contractors are replacing the uprights as planned for the post-Irene strengthening project. The new parts were already fabricated using stronger steel and loaded onto a flatbed and transported to the affected locks.
Goebel said all of the structures from Lock 8 to Lock 15 sustained some damage, with locks 9, 10, 12 and 13 taking the brunt of it.