Canal work aims to alleviate flood problems

The New York State Canal Corp. plans to take measures aimed at curbing flood problems the canal has faced in recent years.

Heavy water flow damaged parts of the canal in June and forced the Canal Corp. to temporarily close local sections. In 2011, tropical storms Irene and Lee flooded parts of the canal in Montgomery County and damaged locks in addition to canal buildings and private property along the canal.

Canal Corp. spokesman Shane Mahar said the agency will spend around $34 million for flood-mitigation measures along the 524-mile canal system, which runs through the Mohawk Valley.

Mahar said work will be done to strengthen movable dams and modernize the canal’s aging infrastructure.

According to Mahar, the movable dams are more than 100 years old.

“To raise the dams is a very dangerous operation,” said Mahar, who added the process requires precise timing.

He said the agency hopes improvements will make the canal more stable.

Mahar said some of the movable dams have been damaged by high water pressure and debris and are being repaired by contractors. Workers inspecting the dams found parts bent out of shape.

In May, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved more than $49 million in reimbursements for the canal for recovery and mitigation work related to Irene and Lee. Damages have been estimated to total $80 million from the 2011 storms.

“With this aid, we can maintain the important role that this waterway plays in New York’s economy, tourism and recreation industries,” Cuomo said in a news release.

“This is a major step in building New York’s Canal System back stronger than ever,” Canal Corp. Director Brian U. Stratton said in the release. “Our canals are a vital resource for upstate New York – from serving as a tourism destination for thousands to its place as an economic engine with an annual impact of $380 million. This federal assistance will now give us the opportunity to restore what was lost and begin a new chapter in the history of New York’s canals.”

In the months following Irene and Lee, the Canal Corp. identified seven projects between

Lock 8 in Scotia and Lock 12 in Fort Johnson that were eligible for FEMA claims. The work, which includes structural repairs, paving, concrete work, pier construction and erosion control, is estimated to cost $65.8 million. FEMA reimbursements will cover $49.3 million of the cost.

Additionally, the Canal Corp. was awarded $4.2 million in reimbursements as part of its $34 million flood-mitigation project to reinforce the eight movable dams in the Mohawk Valley.

Another grant from FEMA, totalling nearly $8.2 million, will pay for the removal of debris and sediment from sections of the Erie Canal expanding across the Capital Region as a result of Lee and Irene. Specifically, the project removes sediment from Locks E-8 to E-22 and C-2 to C-12, and dredges debris and removes sediment from the waterway between E-6 and E-20.

In June, the canal was closed between Lock 8 in Scotia and Lock 15 in Fort Plain due to damage from rain storms. The closure left boats tied up at locks until the water flow could be returned to a manageable speed.

Meanwhile, Fort Plain was flooded due to overflowing water from the Otsquago Creek on June 28.

The section of the Erie Canal between Lock E-11 in Amsterdam and Lock E-15 in Fort Plain reopened Wednesday.

“I want to thank Canal Corp. employees and our contractors who have worked tirelessly to repair damage and safely reopen the system,” Stratton said in a news release.

The corporation is advising mariners that while the canal is reopening, caution should be used during navigation as repair work, debris cleanup and the re-stationing of buoys continues.

The June rain resulted in about $5 million in new damage to the canal system, Mahar said.

The canal system is composed of four waterways, the Erie, the Champlain, the Oswego and the Cayuga-Seneca Canals.