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State grant to Lockport may pay for two more restored locks

LOCKPORT – A $700,000 state grant to the City of Lockport may be used to begin work on the restoration of two more of the five 19th-century Erie Canal locks, but not for a boat which is needed to demonstrate how they worked.

“Doing the operations without the boat in there seems like a hollow story,” said Peter Welsby, the engineering expert on the board of the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp.

This year the project to restore the Flight of Five, as the original stairstep locks are known, took a big step forward with the $3.3 million completion of the return of two of the five to working order after a century being used only as a spillway to handle the overflows from the two modern steel locks beside the Flight.

The five locks are officially designated Locks 67 through 71 by the state Canal Corp. The restored locks are numbers 69 and 70.

The $700,000 grant obtained this month through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council could open the way to restore two more locks.

Board chairman David R. Kinyon said last week that Bergmann Associates, the design firm working on the project, would now be asked to start work on the second phase with the grant money in hand.

“The proof is in the pudding when the final bids come in, but we’re in the ballpark,” Welsby said.

Welsby said that with the $700,000, there are many possibilities, including gates between Locks 70 and 71, which would require masonry repairs; sediment removal from Lock 71, the one at the bottom of the Flight; or the addition of an arched bridge over the locks.

“That sounds like we could get a pretty good bang for our bucks,” Kinyon said. But he added, “It’s difficult to put a definite timeline in for Phase 2.”

In the meantime, a 2-minute video to be shown to potential funders is nearly complete, with Lockport Community Television producing it.

That video, however, won’t show a boat going up and down the locks, which the organizers have been trying to arrange for years.

The Locks Heritage Corp. had a contract with Buffalo Maritime Center to design the boat, but in September the Buffalo Maritime said it wasn’t ready in time for the city to apply for a $260,000 federal grant to help pay to build the boat.

Welsby said last week he had a $610,000 cost estimate from Scarano Boat Builders of Albany to produce a 64-foot replica of a 19th century canal packet boat.

It would take eight months to construct the boat, he said.

Other builders in Toronto and in St. Lawrence County are being solicited.

Brian M. Smith, second in command at the Greater Lockport Development Corp., said he’s looking for a smaller “interim boat” that could be used and left in the locks all winter.

Welsby said there isn’t that much photographic evidence to show what the packet boats really looked like. “They were easily disposable,” he said.