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Don't rewrite history Barge Canal may end in Tonawanda, but the fabled Erie reached Buffalo

There's an obvious history lesson in an Assembly bill sponsored by Sam Hoyt: the eastern and western end points of the Erie Canal always have included Buffalo and Albany. There are more than 15 miles on the Erie Canal, but as the iconic song goes, that route covers "every inch of the way from Albany to Buffalo."

Here's another lesson: history can, through ill-conceived bureaucratic processes, be compromised. At least temporarily.

It can also be rectified, which is why Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer should consider signing Hoyt's canal bill, approved by both houses, that puts Buffalo back on the canal route. Fact is, neither the early 1920s filling in of the canal nor a 1990s-era Thruway bill encoding the Thruway Authority's decision to designate the operational portion of the canal as Waterford to Tonawanda -- as opposed to Albany-Buffalo -- negate the fact that this city was the western terminus of the Erie Canal. We're actually talking a lot about that lately. And the state itself is helping restore our canal heritage through the Erie Canal Harbor project.

Tonawanda Assemblyman Robin Schimminger argues that any boater, tourist, or anyone else who follows the state map can see that the current canal ends in the City of Tonawanda, and does not continue to Buffalo. In his view, the filling in of the Erie Canal altered things. The canal no longer exists from Tonawanda to Buffalo, except for some remnants, and a change in state law flies in the face of reality. The existing law defining the canal from Waterford to Tonawanda has been on the books since 1939 and reflects that reality, he adds.

There are money issues, of course. Designation could equal qualification for various canal economic development programs. Schimminger notes that both cities currently receive funds under the Erie Canalway National Corridor designation, and Buffalo gets a large share of state aid through other, if you'll pardon the term, channels. But that is a bureaucratic argument and a money management issue, and not one that should be allowed to rewrite history.

The canal ended at Lake Erie, not the Niagara River. The city waterfront is where the West really began. That's important, and the state shouldn't deny it. As that old song ended, "one more trip and back we'll go, right back home to Buffalo."

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