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State funding expected for further Flight of Five work

LOCKPORT – State funding is expected to be announced next week for the restoration of a third lock in Lockport’s set of 19th century Erie Canal locks, known as the Flight of Five.

Brian M. Smith, city director of planning and development, told the Common Council Wednesday that he expects word from Empire State Development next Thursday on funding that would enable the city to have Lock 68, the second lock from the bottom of the set of five, returned to working condition in 2016.

The middle lock and the second one from the top, Locks 69 and 70 in the state canal system, were restored last year and are operated for visitors from 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday. For 100 years, the five old locks were used only as a spillway for the adjoining pair of steel locks, numbered 34 and 35.

The new award would be in addition to the $700,000 the state’s Regional Economic Development Council announced last December for further Flight of Five work.

Smith said the city also expects to be able to install a gateway exhibit on Canal Street above the locks next year.

“At the end of the day, that’s our product, is historic preservation,” said David R. Kinyon, chairman of the Locks District Heritage Corp., which is in charge of the Flight of Five project.

Next week, the Council is to vote on an agreement with the corporation, granting it $10,000 a year from the city’s “bed tax” on hotel and motel bills, and assigning the corporation the duty of maintaining the Flight of Five. The city had to commit to an operations and maintenance agreement in exchange for the state Canal Corp. allowing the restoration work.

Kinyon said the corporation expects to sign a three-year contract with Bergmann Associates of Rochester, the architectural firm that designed the restoration, for annual inspections. Another three-year deal, for annual maintenance, is on tap with Hohl Industrial Services, the Town of Tonawanda company that constructed the restoration.

Kinyon said Bergmann’s price is still being negotiated, and Hohl’s contract will see them being paid for their time and materials. “Because all the work is really brand-new, we don’t expect much this year,” Kinyon said.

He said the city could use more volunteer “lock tenders” to open and close the lock gates at the Flight on Saturdays. A team of six is used each week to push the long wooden balance beams that open and close the gates.

“Seventy-three people in this community think it’s worth their time,” Kinyon said.

Meanwhile, Canal Corp. spokesman Shane Mahar said Wednesday that a four-mile portion of the Erie Canalway Trail from the Stevens Street Bridge in Lockport to Fisk Road in Pendleton is scheduled to be complete by November. Next year, the final local connection, two miles of trail from Fisk Road to Tonawanda Creek Road North in Pendleton, is scheduled to be constructed. Both phases are covered by a $4 million state contract with Keeler Construction Co. of Albion.

A parking lot off State Road near the Lockport Bypass, giving access to the 10-foot-wide asphalt trail, also is under construction, Mahar said. A pedestrian bridge over Donner Creek at the intersection of Fisk and Feigle roads is part of this year’s plan, along with 1,500 feet of new trail and a pedestrian bridge over Tonawanda Creek from Amherst to Pendleton, and a signed path in Lockport from Stevens Street to the locks.