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Two restored locks from Flight of Five in Lockport to be tested next week

LOCKPORT – The two restored locks in the 19th-century set of Erie Canal locks in Lockport are nearly complete, and will be tested for the first time next week.

Peter Welsby, the engineer who has been keeping tabs on the project for the city, announced Thursday at the inaugural meeting of the Locks Heritage District Corp. that the two locks will undergo a “full watering test” at 1 p.m. next Thursday.

The final inspection of the $1.74 million project by representatives of the Thruway Authority, the state Canal Corp. and Bergmann Associates, the design firm, is scheduled for Aug. 21.

The opening date for the restored locks is still undetermined. The Common Council did approve a Locks Festival for Oct. 3 and 4 at its meeting Wednesday, but more details are expected when the state Canal Recreationway Commission meets at Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises in Lockport at 2 p.m. Aug. 19.

The five locks, numbered 67 through 71 by the state, are called the “Flight of Five” because of their stairstep design. When the canal opened in 1825, there were two flights of five, but one was removed when the current pair of steel locks were installed 100 years ago. Since then, the surviving flight has been used only as a spillway.

The Flight of Five project seeks to restore all five to working condition as a tourist attraction. However, because of funding constraints, only two have been done: Lock 69, the middle lock, and Lock 70, the one second from the top.

In June, the Council voted to apply for a $3 million state grant to get money to restore Lock 71, the top lock, and Lock 68, second from the bottom.

Stone for the final touches on stairs, walls and arched bridges won’t be delivered until next week, even though it was ordered in March, Welsby said. But Hohl’s contract deadline is Aug. 18, and Welsby said, “By the 18th, all will be done.”

The Canal Corp. paid for the current contract with Hohl Industrial Services of the Town of Tonawanda, which has been working since November.

New lock gates of Vermont white oak, matching the long-gone original gates, have been installed, but Welsby said they haven’t cured yet.

“I don’t think we should expect leak-free locks,” he said. “Even the current locks leak a little.”

The city had hoped to have a replica packet boat built to demonstrate how the locks worked by going up and down between Locks 69 and 70, but funding torpedoed that, too. Welsby said a friend of his connected with a yacht company is trying to borrow a boat that can be used for the opening.

Brian M. Smith, second in command at the city development agency, said he is applying for a $260,000 grant from the National Maritime Heritage Center, which would pay for the replica packet boat designed by Buffalo Maritime Center. Welsby said the boat-building plan assumes volunteers will do the construction – an estimated 20,580 man-hours’ worth.

There are other funding oars in the water. The Niagara County Legislature this week endorsed a request for $160,200 in Niagara River Greenway money for the canal gateway exhibit planned for Canal Street above the locks. The Host Communities Standing Committee, which controls Greenway money in Niagara County, has yet to act.

Also, Smith said he will apply for a grant next year from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help pay for a proposed Canal Workers Monument to be placed above the locks.

Susan Geissler, the Youngstown sculptor who produced the Freedom Crossing and Tuscarora Heroes monuments in Lewiston, has been asked to sculpt this work. David R. Kinyon, who was chosen as chairman of the Locks Heritage District Corp. on Thursday, said the ceiling price for the statue is $800,000.

The corporation is the successor to the city’s longtime Flight of Five Committee and has the same members. It’s officially a subsidiary of the Greater Lockport Development Corp., the city development agency.