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Forum to offer answers on canal locks project

Residents who aren't sure what the plan to restore the original Erie Canal locks to working order is all about will get a chance to have their questions answered Saturday.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker, engineering supervisor Barbara Brewer and other civic leaders will be on hand to explain the Flight of Five project and answer questions from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday in the Niagara County Historical Society, 215 Niagara St.

"A lot of people don't know what the project is all about," Tucker said.

The city has received $2.9 million in state and federal grants to start the process of making the 19th century locks work again. They resemble a set of five stone steps and hence are called the Flight of Five.

These locks, which succeeded the wooden ones in place when the canal opened in 1825, were operational from 1838 to 1914, when they were replaced by the current steel locks. Ever since, locks 67 through 71, as they are officially known, have been used as a spillway to channel water overflow from the working locks.

The plan is to clean out the spillway, install new gates on the locks and make them operational again. There has been talk of hauling boats to them with mules, in an exact re-creation of the original technique.

The city's Flight of Five Committee, headed by David R. Kinyon, received seven responses last week to its request for proposals from engineering firms to serve as design consultant and perform a hydraulic study for the project.

It is Brewer's job to screen them and choose the best three to make presentations before the eight-member committee.

"They're basically teams of firms," said Brewer, who wouldn't identify the bidders.

Kinyon said, "The interview process should be completed by the end of March."

Invitations for Saturday's forum have been sent to Carmella R. Mantello, director of the state Canal Corp., whose cooperation is needed for the project to become a reality; Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence; and State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.

Reynolds inserted $2.6 million for the project in last year's transportation law; Maziarz provided $300,000 from Albany coffers.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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