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EXPERTS CALL RESTORING OF LOCKS FEASIBLE

Masons from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation visited Lockport last week and pronounced the restoration of the 19th-century Erie Canal locks feasible.

"How far we go is up to us, but there are no obstacles as far as structurally," Mayor Michael W. Tucker said. "These are experts in the field, expert masons, and they told us in the end, they found (the locks) in very good shape."

City officials hope for federal money to make it possible to bring the Flight of Five, the old canal locks, up to working condition again.

They haven't been used since the two current steel locks were built, starting in 1910.

The Flight of Five was built between 1838 and 1849 to replace the original 1825 locks, which didn't last. However, some of their original foundation was used in the reconstruction and can still be seen during the off-season, when the canal isn't filled.

Originally, there were two flights of five locks, one for eastbound boats and one for westbound traffic.

The eastbound locks were removed to make way for the steel locks, numbered 34 and 35. The westbound locks, numbers 67 through 71, remain in use as a spillway.

Peter J. Welsby, chairman of the city's Flight of Five restoration committee, said the issue of replacing the spillway is an important one that hasn't been resolved.

He also said another major problem is to either find or reconstruct the five lock gates that were removed in the 1920s.

Welsby also pointed to the pedestrian bridges over the old locks, used by State Canal Corp. workers. He said they would have to be moved to allow for use of the Flight of Five.

Despite all the issues, Tucker said the state officials he talked with strongly approve of the project.

"They think it's a fantastic project. They think it's a not just a big project for Lockport or a big project for New York State, it's a big project for the United States."

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, inserted $3.25 million for the Flight of Five into a transportation bill currently working its way through Congress.

Welsby said that money would be used for preservation, with further funding needed for the actual restoration to working order of the old locks.

Tucker said his next funding source may be the Governor's Office of Small Cities. But Welsby said the Canal Corp., the state agency that owns the locks, won't pay to restore them.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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