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State rejects leftover proposals to rent or own canal land

A boat rental company that wanted state land along the Erie Canal was among three would-be Niagara County renters or buyers of canal land whose deals were canceled Friday by the New York State Canal Corp.

A major cruise operation in Lockport and a brother and sister in Pendleton also had their deals called off. In each case, the buyers said they already had given up because of red tape.

A lease to Canal Princess Charters for .15 of an acre on the North Tonawanda waterfront was approved by the Canal Corp. board in March 2000 but never completed.

Canal Princess owner Larry MacDonald said it was only 75 feet of frontage, but he needed permission from the Canal Corporation, the North Tonawanda Planning Board, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies he couldn't recall.

Finally, MacDonald decided earlier this year to stick with his current location in the City of Tonawanda.

"Should it take five years to rent 75 feet of land? Each time I would get a permit from one, another would expire. I was just chasing permits," MacDonald said. "It's just one reason why New York has a problem attracting businesses. I'm not mad at anyone. I'm just observing the process. It's too much bureaucracy."

Canal Corp. Director Carmella R. Mantello said Gov. George E. Pataki told her when he appointed her to head the Canal Corporation earlier this year that he wanted to her to clean up unfinished business there.

Mantello said the corporation is canceling 13 incomplete land deals around the state, dating back as far as 1996. More than half of the would-be purchasers refused to pay the state's price, according to a news release.

Mantello said the Canal Corporation wants to ensure that land use along the waterway complies with its land management policy, revised last year. From now on, deals must be closed within one year.

"We're not in the business of economic development," Mantello said. The Canal Corporation will concentrate on operating the waterway while trying to carry out Pataki's vision of an Erie Canal Greenway to connect the existing Hudson River Greenway and the planned Niagara River Greenway.

Michael Murphy, owner of Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises, said he agreed to a lease in October 1998 on a 15-foot-wide strip of state land, 8,200 square feet, separating his business from the canal.

However, the state's appraised price, $58,900, was unsatisfactory, and Murphy said he is paying about $3,000 a year for a permit to use the land instead.

"We'll continue the permit. That's not a problem," Mantello said.

Another issue is that an old stone building next to Murphy's Market Street business encroaches about eight feet onto the state's land. Murphy owns that building and said the Canal Corporation wants him to buy or lease the land, but a resolution hasn't been worked out.

In Pendleton, Thomas A. Jancetic and his sister, Amherst attorney Lori M. Johnson, sought to buy 1.36 acres of state land along East Canal Road. The land bisected a landlocked lot they jointly own, and they wanted it in order to have access to the lot from the road.

The state appraised the land at $19,700 when the Canal board ratified the sale in 2001. However, Mantello said the State Historic Preservation Office objected. She said it looks like the purchasers were scared off by that.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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