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Flight of Five opening likely to be delayed a month

LOCKPORT – The long, cold winter is likely to produce a delay of about a month in opening the restored Flight of Five, organizers were told Tuesday.

Peter Welsby, who has been keeping tabs on the construction on two of the five 19th-century Erie Canal locks, told his colleagues on the Lockport Locks Heritage District Committee that the harsh winter has delayed the likely opening date a month, probably to Aug. 1.

Welsby said water in the locks area froze daily and caused workers from Hohl Industrial Services of the Town of Tonawanda to spend time breaking it up. The State Canal Corp. hired Hohl on a $1.74 million contract.

The canal is scheduled to be refilled with water around April 15. Welsby said the new stone being placed along the sides of the locks can’t be grouted when the temperature is below freezing or when the canal is filled with water.

Welsby said the only work that can be done after the canal opens for traffic around May 1 would be masonry work above the water line.

Welsby reported that Vermont Timber Works will ship white oak lumber from that state to Hohl’s plant as soon as next week. The oak will be used to make the new gates for the locks.

However, a replica packet boat, which is supposed to be used to demonstrate how the locks worked by going up and down between them, could be two years away from construction. The committee wants a good artist’s sketch to use in seeking money to build the boat, which is estimated to cost $300,000.

Committee Chairman David R. Kinyon said he has applied to the Grigg-Lewis Foundation for $200,000 toward the boat and $50,000 toward project management. The committee also is seeking $150,000 in Niagara River Greenway money for the planned gateway exhibit on Canal Street above the locks.

Kinyon said funding the gateway in time for this summer’s opening is the committee’s top priority, outranking the packet boat.

In third place on the priority list is creating 13 bronze figures, at a cost of about $800,000, to re-create a widely known 1895 photograph of 13 canal workers sitting on the steps of the locks.