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Thread: The Erie Canal

  1. #1

    Default The Erie Canal

    Architects hired for Erie Canal plan

    Rick Armon
    Staff writer

    (September 9, 2003) — Two architectural firms that teamed up to boost recreational opportunities on the Erie Canal in the mid-1990s are now in charge of creating an overall strategy for economic activity and preservation along the historic 524-mile waterway.

    The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission and National Park Service on Monday announced the hiring of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP of New York City and Sasaki Architects, Landscape Architects & Professional Engineers PC of Watertown, Mass.

    The firms will produce a cohesive strategy and recommendations to preserve historical aspects of the canal and to promote development along its shores, said Eric Mower, chairman of the commission.

    A final report is expected in about two years. The contract is worth $874,000.

    “ This canal, without any question, is the most important corridor in the United States,” Jack Beyer said at a news conference in Rochester, where the commission was meeting. The Genesee River and a portion of the abandoned canal under Broad Street served as a scenic backdrop.

    Beyer and Sasaki are quite familiar with the canal, which was first opened in 1825 and later expanded. They created a master plan for the state Thruway Authority in 1995 that promoted trails and boating along the waterway. That plan was the genesis not only for the boom in recreational opportunities, but also a boost to the New York economy, Beyer said.

    The firm will work with existing canal groups and communities in developing its latest plan, Mower said.

    The Erie Canal was designated in 2000 by Congress as one of 23 National Heritage Corridors in the United States. The 27-member commission was created last year to oversee it and promote tourism, recreation and economic development in an area that includes more than 200 cities, towns and villages.

    One of its first tasks was to hire a planning firm.

    The commission can receive up to $1 million a year in federal funding for 10 years. Additional money can be obtained for specific projects through requests from Congress.

    Reps. James Walsh, R-Onondaga and Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. and Monroe County Executive Jack Doyle attended the announcement and praised the effort to promote the canal.

    “ We’ve never capitalized as much as we should have on the Erie Canal,” Slaughter said.

    For more details about the National Heritage Corridor, go to:

  2. #2


    October 22, 2003

    Take Back the Erie Canal

    Heads up. We have action in Albany. The New York State comptroller, Alan Hevesi, has rescinded the approval of a deal allowing a Buffalo developer to pay $30,000 for the development rights along 50 prime miles of the Erie Canal and its tributaries. The comptroller labeled the competitive process for this agreement a "sham." He said the state's Canal Corporation, which approved the contract, made "false and misleading" statements 18 months ago to get validation from the comptroller's office. So Mr. Hevesi removed the comptroller's seal of approval, voided the contract and passed his findings along to the attorney general for more investigation.

    While some old Albany hands scratched their heads about whether a comptroller could undo what a predecessor had done, the real question is why Gov. George Pataki or the New York State Thruway Authority, parent of the Canal Corporation, had not made this action unnecessary. A mere $30,000 for options to develop the Erie Canal should be an embarrassment to Mr. Pataki for lots of reasons.

    After the developer presented his plan for a waterfront residential development, the corporation advertised — in an insider's newsletter — for proposals that sounded a lot like those same developer's plans. Others considering development of the canal now complain that they were not properly notified. And now there are even questions about whether the developer is in default on the contract by subcontracting to another developer with political connections. It all makes Mr. Pataki's administration look like a place that funnels its juiciest business to friends, hiding such ventures inside the huge network of semiprivate state authorities.

    The first response from the Thruway Authority officials who oversee the canal system was to label this politics. They say Mr. Hevesi did not give them a decent chance to respond to his charges. A better route would be for the Canal Corporation to hold open hearings, recognize the flaws in a system that produces such a contract and send the developer back his $30,000.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  3. #3


    May 11, 2004

    State Cancels Deal to Develop Erie Canal


    A developer, Richard A. Hutchens, planned to put homes on the canal.

    ALBANY, May 10 - The Pataki administration has quietly moved to terminate a contract it awarded that gave a real estate developer the exclusive rights to build along the shoreline of the Erie Canal for only $30,000, officials said Monday.

    The deal became a political embarrassment for the administration last year after Democrats questioned why such potentially lucrative development rights were being sold for so little money after a little-publicized bidding process yielded only one bidder. After the office of State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi rescinded its earlier approval of the contract last fall, Gov. George E. Pataki asked the state attorney general and inspector general to investigate the contract.

    Both investigations are continuing, officials said.

    After defending the contract for months, officials at the Canal Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority that awarded the contract three years ago, decided to end it. On Friday they faxed a letter to the winning bidder, Richard A. Hutchens, telling him the deal was off as of May 20.

    In the letter, the Canal Corporation said it was terminating the contract not because of any questions about how it was awarded, but because it had determined that Mr. Hutchens's company "has not satisfied material provisions" of the agreement. It faulted Mr. Hutchens for improperly bringing another developer into the project and for failing to certify a list of sites suitable for development.

    Thomas A. Bystryk, the general manager of Mr. Hutchens's firm, said in an interview Monday that he believed the contract allowed a 30-day period to remedy any problems.

    He noted that none of the investigations had found any wrongdoing by the company and said he was consulting lawyers over a course of action. "If they do this, it's another kick in the teeth for the state," he said. "There's a potential for a great deal of development and they want to stymie it. Think of it. Who will want to do business in the state if they do this?"

    Asked if he thought that the administration was using technicalities to kill the contract and end a political embarrassment, Mr. Bystryk said, "That is our assumption."

    Michael R. Fleischer, the executive director of the Canal Corporation and the Thruway Authority - which are both controlled by the same three-member board appointed by the governor - said Monday that he believed the problems were beyond remedy.

    The deal has helped turn the Erie Canal from a symbol of one of the most successful economic development programs in the state's history to what critics call a symbol of all that is wrong with the state's current system of using public authorities and corporations to do government work with little of the oversight customary for state agencies.

    "The Pataki administration has botched, on both an economic and an ethical basis, this entire process," said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, who brought details of the deal to light during legislative hearings that he held. "It has become the poster child for what is wrong with state authorities."

    The case highlights the need for a fundamental overhaul of the state's public authorities, he said on Monday.

    Mr. Hutchens won the bid after the Canal Corporation announced that it was offering the development rights in a small advertisement on Page 62 of an obscure, subscription-only publication called The New York State Contract Reporter. The solicitation for bids was sandwiched between advertisements looking for a firm to provide mops to the State Power Authority and another looking for a company to maintain hiking trails.

    It was later learned that Mr. Hutchens had been alerted to the ad by the Canal Corporation, and that he had been in talks with the corporation long before bids were solicited.

    The contract gave Mr. Hutchens the right to cut private canals into the Erie Canal and its tributaries, allowing him to build housing developments with access to the canal along about 45 miles of its shoreline.

    Despite the Canal Corporation's earlier defense of awarding the contract, Mr. Fleischer said the corporation would be changing its procedures.

    "We're canceling this contract because he didn't comply with the contract's provisions," he said. "Going forward, the Canal Corporation and the authority are developing new procedures for the disposition of land on the canal."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  4. #4
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    Hints of Comeback for Nation’s First Superhighway

    A MODERN MULE The tugboat Margot nosed a barge along the Erie Canal

    November 3, 2008


    LITTLE FALLS, N.Y. — Most people do not believe that Tim Dufel can push 2,000 tons of steel all the way across New York State. Isn’t the old Erie Canal dried up, they ask him, its locks broken, its ditch filled in and forgotten?

    They ask these questions even on days like this one, when Mr. Dufel is standing in an orange life vest, watching brown water flood Lock 16 here and lift his loaded barge like a toy battleship in a bathtub.

    “Sixty percent of the people I meet have no idea the Erie Canal is even still functioning,” Mr. Dufel said. He is assistant engineer on the tugboat Margot and an owner of the New York State Marine Highway Transportation Company, one of the largest shippers on the canal.

    After decades of decline, commercial shipping has returned to the Erie Canal, though it is a far cry from the canal’s heyday. The number of shipments rose to 42 so far this year during the season the canal is open, from 15 during last year’s season, which lasts from May 1 to Nov. 15.

    Once nearly forgotten, the relic of history has shown signs of life as higher fuel prices have made barges an attractive alternative to trucks.

    “We anticipated we might have an increase in commercial traffic, but nowhere near what we’re seeing today,” said Carmella R. Mantello, director of the New York State Canal Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority that operates the Erie and three other canals.

    Along the Erie Canal, business owners who never gave the sleepy waterway much thought are exploring new ways of putting it to use.
    “There aren’t too many wagon trails left, but we still have the canal,” said John Callaghan, a mate on the Margot. “Sure it’s history, but it’s still relevant. We’re making money here.”

    Completed in 1825, rerouted in parts and rebuilt twice since then, the Erie Canal flows 338 miles across New York State, between Waterford in the east and Tonawanda in the west. It carved out a trail for immigrants who settled the Midwest, and it cemented the position of New York City, which connects with the canal via the Hudson River, as the nation’s richest port. In 1855, at the canal’s height as a thoroughfare for goods and people, 33,241 shipments passed through the lock at Frankfort, 54 miles east of Syracuse, according to Craig Williams, history curator at the New York State Museum in Albany.

    Though diminished in the late 1800s by competition from railroads, commercial shipping along the canal grew until the early 1950s, when interstate highways and the new St. Lawrence Seaway lured away most of the cargo and relegated the canal to a scenic backwater piloted by pleasure boats.

    The canal still remains the most fuel-efficient way to ship goods between the East Coast and the upper Midwest. One gallon of diesel pulls one ton of cargo 59 miles by truck, 202 miles by train and 514 miles by canal barge, Ms. Mantello said. A single barge can carry 3,000 tons, enough to replace 100 trucks.

    As the price of diesel climbed over $4 a gallon this summer — the national average is now about $3.31 a gallon — more shippers rediscovered the Erie Canal. On one trip in mid-October, the Margot motored down the canal at about seven knots, pushing a barge loaded with a giant green crane. The machine was being transported from Huger, S.C., to the Pinney Dock, operated by the Kinder Morgan Company in Ashtabula, Ohio.

    “It really just came down to economics,” said Lee Demers, the dock’s manager. The other option was to move the crane through the St. Lawrence Seaway, adding more than 1,000 miles and greater fuel costs to the trip.

    A few miles east of Little Falls, the canal sat flat as glass, reflecting the orange and red leaves on either bank. As the barge plunged through, the surface curled into a mirrored wave two feet high before breaking into gray chop.

    “I’ve worked the East Coast, the West Coast and the Panama Canal, but up here is some of the most beautiful country you can ever see,” said John Schwind, 62, the captain of the Margot, who first learned to pilot tugs here in the 1970s.

    A little further on, the barge pitched to port as it rammed muddy sediment along the bottom. After rains flood the canal’s tributaries, the mud occasionally becomes so deep that the tug’s propellers cannot turn the load, and the barge drifts dangerously close to the bank.

    “You have to pay constant attention,” Mr. Schwind said. “You can run into trouble real fast.”

    The canal was dug at least 12 feet deep. But decades of diminished shipping revenue left the canal corporation struggling to keep up with maintenance. Last year, the corporation paid $3 million for a new dredger — its old machine dated from the 1950s.

    The agency does not have money for advertising, so this year’s growth happened almost entirely by word of mouth. Much of the interest comes from new energy businesses. An old building in Fulton that has been converted into the Northeast Biofuels plant sits on the shore of the Oswego River, which serves as the Oswego Canal and connects to the Erie. The site will also include a carbon dioxide recovery plant, which required moving four large metal tanks there, said Eric Will II, one of the owners of Northeast Biofuels.

    Moving the tanks by truck or rail would have required cutting them into pieces and reassembling them at the site, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost, Mr. Will said. Instead, the manufacturer delivered the tanks whole by barge.

    “It’s a nifty thing to do,” Mr. Will said, “and it can be a very cost-effective.”

    Some proponents worry that as oil prices drop, the canal could lose its price advantage, and shipping might again slide into oblivion. Others expected this summer’s spike to continue because it reminded people that the canal exists.

    When a company called Auburn Biodiesel decided to convert an old factory in Montezuma into a biodiesel plant, the building’s location beside the canal “was merely an incidental consideration,” said David J. Colegrove, the company’s president. But after watching the number of cargo shipments along the canal grow, Mr. Colegrove said he hoped to bring soybeans in by barge and use the canal to ship finished product to New York City.

    “The amount of money you can save is really eye-popping,” he said. “I’m fascinated by the history of the canal, and I’m intrigued by how well it still works.”

    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

  5. #5
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    Life in the Slow Lane: Navigating the Erie Canal


    ON THE ERIE CANAL, N.Y. — With a hand on the sturdy brass tiller I sighted ahead and steered our boat, the Seneca, down the center of the placid green ribbon that is the modern Erie Canal. Bikers went faster than we did as they zipped along the towpath, now a biking and walking trail. Even Rollerbladers and joggers passed us going in the same direction.

    At top speed, motor thrumming, we plowed along at a very relaxed five miles an hour.

    Just a day earlier I’d been racing along the New York State Thruway at 70 m.p.h., anxious not to be late to pick up the canal boat.

    But I found that life on the canal was plenty fast for me.

    That meant chugging down the middle of the 150-foot wide, 12-foot-deep ditch that in its heyday transformed New York and the nation, ushering in an age of industrial and economic power. It meant maneuvering through locks and under bridges, as boats had done on the canal for nearly 200 years. That meant getting a backyard view of upstate New York, slipping past lawns and docks, past oversize summer homes and modest trailers at water’s edge. It meant gliding by farms, woods and marshes, watching herons wade in the shallows. And it meant exploring the small towns that line the canal, searching for traces of its past.

    Our family of five picked up the boat for a three-day trip in Macedon, N.Y., east of Rochester, at a marina run by Mid-Lakes Navigation, the largest of several companies that rent houseboats on the canal. The first step was instruction in how to operate the 42-foot-long, 12-ton craft.

    Our instructor, Matt Christ, was unfazed when he learned that my wife, Sarah, and I had little experience with anything larger than a canoe. Operating the Seneca, he said, was as easy as driving a car.

    But first he cheerfully went over all the things that could go wrong. Don’t run aground by going on the wrong side of a buoy. Don’t let the boat’s ropes get caught in the propeller. And don’t tie the boat to the side of a lock as the water is draining, or you could find yourself hanging from the lock wall before the boat’s weight starts to tear it apart. “That,” he said, “will end your vacation early.”

    We took a short training run, which included lessons in docking and in passing through a lock. After that we were on our own, heading west, on our floating home.

    As promised, the boat was easy to handle. It helped that it didn’t go fast enough to get us into much trouble, and that the canal has about as much current as a bathtub.

    There were two locks and four lift bridges (they have to be raised to give the boat room to pass) along our route, and they added immensely to the sense of novelty and history. Locks were one of the marvels of the canal when it was first built, making it possible to create a navigable waterway across upstate New York’s uneven terrain.

    My 11-year-old son, Max, quickly took on the role of radio operator. “Lock 33, Lock 33, this is the Seneca, requesting westward passage,” he said into the handset as we approached our first lock.

    On the outward trip we were heading upstream. That meant the lock’s function was to raise our boat to the level of the water on the upstream side, about 25 feet above the point where we entered the lock. We pulled in, and the tall gates shut behind us with a metallic clang. Our job was simple: hold on to guide ropes on the side of the lock to keep the boat from drifting. Then the operator opened a sluice gate and the water crept upward, until it had raised us nearly three stories to the upper level.

    Work on the canal began in 1817. It was completed in 1825, stretching 363 miles from Albany on the Hudson to Buffalo on Lake Erie. For the first time goods could travel quickly by boat from New York City up the Hudson, through the canal, all the way to the Great Lakes and the interior of the country. It led to an upstate boom, and the industries, inventions and ideas that sprung up in the vicinity of the waterway helped create the modern world: the first factories for building mechanical harvesters (Brockport in the 1840s) and for making cheese (Rome, 1851); the invention of the Kodak camera (Rochester, 1888); an early large-scale hydroelectric plant (Niagara Falls, 1895); the start of the women’s movement (Seneca Falls, 1848); the creation of Jell-O (Le Roy, 1897).

    In its earliest days the canal was just 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and boats were pulled by mules clomping along the towpath. Over the years it was enlarged twice and ultimately had room for huge modern barges. Commercial traffic fizzled out by the mid-1970s, and the canal became a recreational waterway, maintained and operated, as it always had been, by the state.

    On the first day we got as far as Henpeck Park in the town of Greece, about six hours of steady motoring from our starting point. There are no docks jutting into the narrow canal. Instead boats tie up at concrete walls along the water’s edge.

    We barbecued a steak on a portable gas grill provided with the boat, then lay beside the canal in the quiet park and watched meteors streak across the sky.

    The Seneca was roomy and beautifully constructed (Mid-Lakes designs and builds its own boats), with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a shower, and a kitchen with a refrigerator and stove. The kitchen table folded down to make a third bed. Max and our daughters, Emma, 8, and Romy, 4, loved having the run of the boat as we motored along: it was like having an RV you could ride on top of. (When they were on the roof, the kids wore life jackets.)

    The next morning we cruised for about an hour and put in at the town of Spencerport for a brief exploration and then lunch at Barton’s Parkside Hots, a cart on South Union Street. They take their frankfurters, which they call hots, seriously in western New York, and a long line of regulars forms at Barton’s at lunchtime.

    We then continued west about an hour and a half to Brockport. The town is home to the College at Brockport, part of the state university system, which helps give it a funky, bookish feel. The town, with about 8,300 residents, retains a good deal of 19th-century architecture, and a brochure available at a dockside visitors center lays out a detailed walking tour.

    We strolled along Main Street and browsed in the friendly Lift Bridge Book Shop. Then we set off in search of a playground (we found one at Utica and Holley Streets) and wandered through the tree-shaded town, admiring the flower gardens and old buildings.

    Back at the canal eight other boats, from a little Boston Whaler to a 43-foot motor yacht, were pulled up for the night. There was a lively scene canalside, with boaters trading sea stories and locals out for an evening walk.

    We cooked dinner on the boat and then returned to Main Street, for ice cream at Seaward Candies. The shop also makes its own chocolates, in fanciful shapes that include Band-Aids, a nearly life-size revolver and a tableau of the Last Supper.

    The next day we headed back east. I noticed things on the return trip I hadn’t seen on the way out. One was the Great Embankment, a section of the canal built on an earthen mass piled seven stories above the surrounding countryside to carry it across a steep valley.

    Early the following day we arrived back at the marina in Macedon. By now we felt like experienced “canawlers,” as the boatmen in mule-power days called themselves. We had gotten used to the canal’s easygoing rhythms, and we were reluctant to say goodbye to the Seneca — and life at five miles an hour.


    The New York State Canal Corporation lists charter companies with boats for hire on its Web site, Mid-Lakes Navigation (800-545-4318, rents boats from May to mid-October. Rates vary depending on the size of the boat and the length of the trip. The regular three-night rate for the boat we rented, one of the largest, was $1,875. But last spring, midrecession, when I booked the trip, the company was offering discounts and we agreed on a rate of $1,675. With tax and a $75 charge for insurance, the total came to nearly $1,900.


    Barton’s Parkside Hots, South Union Street, between Slayton and Lyell Avenues, Spencerport, (585) 303-4265.

    Seaward Candies, 7 South Main Street, Brockport, (585) 637-4120, serves ice cream and unusual custom-made chocolates.

  6. #6

    Default The Champlain Canal

    The Champlain Canal is alive and well too. It runs from the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal just north of Albany to Lake Champlain. I live near Lock 5 and enjoy watching boats from all parts of the United States and Canada pass by all summer.

    The Erie and Champlain Canals are amazing New York resources.

    John Tedder

  7. #7
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    Buffalo's Waterfront Shuffle

    City makes a comeback as a destination with planned rebuilding of the Erie Canal.

    Branden Klayko

    Concept rendering of Buffalo's planned Erie Canal redevelopment.
    Courtesy EE&K a Perkins Eastman Company

    Buffalo’s historic inner harbor waterfront has changed radically over the past century. The terminus of the legendary Erie Canal was buried, the site filled in, and the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium built on top. A soaring 75-foot tall highway sliced the city off from the water. Now, Buffalo is poised to remake its waterfront with newly approved plans to restore the canal to a 12-acre, walkable, mixed-use neighborhood.

    In 2005, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) was formed to jumpstart multiple developments on the waterfront. Preliminary ground work began on the site bounded by Main Street, Marine Drive, Pearl Street, and Lower Terrace following the demolition of the auditorium in 2008. After a series of public events and workshops, the ECHDC approved plans on April 12 to restore the original street grid and canal alignment with construction of the canal ready to begin this fall. “We’ve done so much work already,” said Erich Weyant, communications director for the ECHDC. “The block is stabilized and shovel ready.”

    Initial phases of the Erie Canal redevelopment include the canal and street infrastructure.

    “The canal project is part of a trend of reclaiming waterfronts across the country,” said Hilary Bertsch of EE&K, a Perkins Eastman company, who is overseeing the design. “We’re pulling the waterfront into the city and celebrating the canal.”

    Situated on a complex, layered site with fifteen feet of grade change, plans call for the canal’s original layout to be restored as a two-foot-deep pool above the massive, buried sewer. The new canal ranges in width from 60- to 100-feet and will be spanned by a series of pedestrian bridges. In fair weather, small boats will have access to the water and a large ice-skating rink will be set up in the winter.

    Once the canal infrastructure is complete at the end of 2012, future phases will rebuild the street grid and build up the surrounding land. These cobbled streets will form the framework for a mix of public and private development including a market, hotel, retail space, a visitors center, and a transit hub, although the development concept is still evolving.

    Renderings show a dense mix of traditional styles that echo the architecture of the lost mid-19th century neighborhood. “We’re still looking at this as an early concept,” said Bertsch. “Paying tribute to the site’s history is important, but we can’t lose sight of today’s realities.” While the canal design is complete, the architecture that surrounds it is evolving and could offer a more modern aesthetic.

    Funding for the project’s infrastructure is already in place, said Bertsch. “We’re hoping this is going to roll right along and not sit long between phases. Buffalo started with a boom—with the Erie Canal and Olmsted parkways. If we rebuild the infrastructure, development will come.”

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