Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the New York State Canal System will not open the locks to navigation on May 15th as previously announced.
The NYS Canal Corporation issued the following Notice to Mariners:
“Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the Canal Corporation has suspended all non-essential construction and maintenance activities, therefore the New York State Canal System will not open for through navigation of the locks on May 15 [emphasis added] as previously announced. However, to support the Canal’s continued use as a prime recreational waterway, the Canal Corporation is currently evaluating operational options to ensure New Yorkers will have access to the Canal system, if even potentially on a regional basis, this season. We recognize that this is an extraordinarily difficult time and are sensitive to potential hardships Canal stakeholders, as well as many other New Yorkers, may experience. The situation with COVID-19 is ever-evolving and we are trying to adapt our plans accordingly. Future updates will be posted through our Notice to Mariners program. We appreciate your patience.”
What follows is a statement from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor:
We recognize that these are extraordinary times and that the safety of canal employees, contractors and the general public is vital. Canal workers at the locks, lift bridges, section shops, and floating plant are the system’s most valuable asset. Their skills, expertise, and collective wisdom are what keeps this National Historic Landmark system running.
At the same time, we believe that a fully navigable canal system is essential transportation infrastructure. Delays in opening the Canal System or opening the canals on a “regional basis” will have significant negative impacts on the economy and social fabric of upstate communities and will impede a full New York State recovery.
The NYS Canal System generates billions of dollars in economic impact each year for canal communities and businesses. Negative impacts will be keenly felt by boating-related businesses and service providers, commercial operators, communities that rely on canal tourism, and manufacturing.
Lock pump-outs and related construction work ceased along the NYS Canal System on March 17. Impacted locks include: E7 (Niskayuna), E13 (Yosts), E19 (Schuyler), E26 (Clyde), E23 (Brewerton), E33 (Rochester), Locks E34/E35 (Lockport) on the Erie Canal, and C12 (Whitehall) on the Champlain Canal. Until this work is completed, boats will not be able to travel between locks and vessels seeking to reach the Finger Lakes, Lake Champlain, Great Lakes, and Canadian waterways via the Canal System will not be able to do so.
New York’s canals are an integral part of the social fabric and identity of communities all along upstate waterways. During this extremely difficult time, delayed opening and reduced water levels of the NYS Canal System will further contribute to a climate of uncertainty across the entire state. More than 70 percent of upstate New Yorkers live within 20 miles of the canals. For 200 years, through wars and peacetime, prosperity and recession, the canals have remained navigable. Residents in canal communities celebrate the opening of the Canal System each year and embrace the beauty, history, and recreational opportunities that the canals provide. Opening the entire Canal System in a safe and timely fashion would provide a sense of normalcy and hope to millions.
As the National Heritage Corridor tasked with preserving and promoting the NYS Canal System for present and future generations, we continue to stand ready to work collaboratively with the NYS Canal Corporation and New York Power Authority at this critical time.
By a letter on April 8, 2020, we have urged the New York Power Authority and the NYS Canal Corporation to reconsider their decision to suspend essential repairs and construction in order to safely reopen the entire NYS Canal System as soon as possible and to ensure a timely and full recovery for all New Yorkers.
Photo of Erie Canal near Lyons in April 2020 provided.