LOCKPORT – The city agency overseeing the Flight of Five project has obtained a money-saving price quote for constructing a special boat to demonstrate the operation of the 19th-century Erie Canal locks.
Peter J. Welsby told his fellow members of Locks Heritage District Corp. last week that the price offered by the Mohawk Valley Historical Transportation Society was $320,000. That’s far less than the $610,000 quote the city previously received from Scarano Boat Building of Albany.
However, the money isn’t in hand; and even if it were, neither builder could produce a replica canal packet boat in time for this year’s tourist season.
The partially restored locks, which were demonstrated twice last fall, are to open on Memorial Day weekend. At a cost of $3.3 million, mostly in state and federal grants, two of the five locks were restored to working condition last year.
However, a historically accurate boat is considered a crucial element in showing how the stair-step locks worked nearly 200 years ago. Without a boat, the locks are simply gates opening and closing, letting water run in and out.
“It’s going to be over a year between signing a contract and the availability of the boat,” Welsby said. The reason, he said, is that the Rome-based historical group would need to obtain the proper wood and kiln-dry it. Scarano, a commercial firm, has wood on hand.
“I’d like to get a third quote. I have a feeling we’re getting both ends of the spectrum,” Welsby said.
He and Locks Heritage Executive Director David R. Kinyon said they have confidence that the Mohawk Valley group can do the job. It has built boats and train cars used at Erie Canal Village in Rome.
The Flight of Five is scheduled to be operational from 10 a.m. to noon four days a week – Fridays through Mondays – from Memorial Day weekend through “Locktoberfest” on the first weekend in October.
Meanwhile, the Flight of Five has been named winner of a statewide historic preservation award from the American Public Works Association.
It shared a regional award with the Canalside project in Buffalo, but only the Lockport locks restoration will be honored at the state public works banquet April 23 in Utica.