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Last chance

New leak scuttles plan to reopen Erie Canal

Friday, November 8, 2013
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Last chance


Heavy equipment are at the base of Lock 13 in the town of Root as repairs and reconstruction of the lock continued in September.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Heavy equipment are at the base of Lock 13 in the town of Root as repairs and reconstruction of the lock continued in September.

— The state Canal Corp. on Friday canceled plans for a late-season re-opening of the Erie Canal and marked Sunday as the start of a final, three-day chance for boaters to get off the Mohawk River.

A monthlong, unexpected project to stabilize subsurface water intrusion at the Lock 13 movable dam was near completion this week when contractors found a new stream of water erupting into their work site, which is shrouded by a coffer dam.

A three-year rehabilitation project started in 2010 was stymied several times by severe weather, including tropical storms Irene and Lee.

At a glance

• The state Canal Corp. plans to open the Erie Canal between locks 12 and 14 at 10 a.m. Sunday.

• It will remain open until 5 p.m. Wednesday, at which point the canal will be shut down.

• The rest of the canal system will close two days later, at 5 p.m. Friday.

Engineers determined Mother Nature dealt the project another blow in September when the coffer dam — a temporary box built on the river bottom to keep water away from the work — started filling with water. The water blew out a portion of the coffer dam before a diver went underwater and found a 13-foot-wide void beneath the dam’s center pier.

It left the three-pier dam sitting on one solid pier because the ongoing rehabilitation project included replacing one of the piers. That pier was replaced temporarily with steel beams.

The other pier — on the north end of the dam — was successfully resurfaced.

In the dam’s current condition, engineers won’t allow its movable gates to be lowered because it’s unclear if the dam is stable enough to hold up to the Mohawk River’s pressure.

Contractors from Tioga Construction, already on the scene working on the $15.5 million rehabilitation, put several weeks of extra work into strengthening the subsurface of the dam. Besides filling the massive hole beneath the center pier, they drilled more than 150 holes into the river floor and filled them with reinforcing grout.

But they found a frustrating development this week they’re calling a “boil” — water erupting out of the riverbed, from another spot, into the coffer dam again.

The discovery ended plans for the affected portion of the Erie Canal to be reopened Sunday through Dec. 2.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern as we make these necessary repairs,” Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton said in a statement released Friday. “The work being completed now protects the well-being of our staff and patrons through the end of this season. Further, it is essential in allowing us to be ready for 2014 — the 190th consecutive season of navigation on the Erie Canal.”

After discussions with engineers and contractors, officials decided to get all boat traffic off the water and focus instead on fixing the problem once and for all, Canal Corp. spokesman Shane Mahar said.

“By adjusting the schedule now, it allows the contractor to finish this work, and it will ensure that we’re ready for 2014,” he said.

Emergency repair work was underway in early October when the Canal Corp. organized a weekend reprieve for mariners. The emergency repair stranded boaters to the east and to the west of the affected canal portion — locks 12 to 14, all of which were shut down to relieve pressure while work continued on Lock 13.

Mahar said as many as 60 boaters were able to get where they needed do go during that brief period. Now, there are roughly 20 boaters on the river looking to go in either direction, Mahar said.

They include the Grande Mariner, a 184-foot cruise ship based in Rhode Island that carries as many as 88 passengers for tours along waterways. The limited re-opening will come with a limited depth — just 7 feet — but Mahar said that should suffice for all to move in either direction.

“We’re confident that we can get everybody through, including the Grande Mariner,” he said.

 
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