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Lockport planning director breathes sigh of relief on canal project

LOCKPORT – When the Lockport Common Council tabled a contract for engineering work on restoration of the 19th century Erie Canal locks, city Planning and Development Director Brian M. Smith became a very nervous man.

Last week, at a Council work session, Smith got to exhale, as it looks like the Council will approve the contract with Bergmann Associates of Rochester after all.

Smith entreated one of the aldermen to agree to sponsor the measure at the next meeting Wednesday, “so I can sleep better.”

It was presumed that Council President David R. Wohleben, R-4th Ward, would sponsor the $129,357 contract, but Wohleben is going to miss Wednesday’s meeting. Finally, Alderman R. Joseph O’Shaughnessy, D-at large, agreed to sponsor it, and Alderman Mark S. Devine, R-3rd Ward, will second the motion.

Not awarding the contract probably would have prevented construction this year on the restoration of the third of the five locks, known as the Flight of Five. Two already have been restored to working condition after a century of being used only as a spillway for water displaced by the opening and closing of the active locks, installed in 1914.

David R. Kinyon, president of the Locks Heritage District Corp., said Bergmann already has done preliminary engineering for all five locks. The work on the third lock, called the second phase of the project since the first two locks were done together in 2014, is being paid for by a $1.3 million Empire State Development grant.

“When it’s all finalized, there’s no city money on Phase 2,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

Meanwhile, the Council also is to consider a $322,000 contract this week for construction of gateways at each end of Canal Street, the pedestrian-only entrance that leads to the Flight of Five. Scott Lawn Yard of Sanborn is the low bidder. The cost will be covered by grants from the Niagara River Greenway and the state Dormitory Authority.

“We want to start in March so we’re ready (for tourists) in June,” said Rolando Moreno, city assistant engineering director.

Alderman Joseph P. Oates, R-1st Ward, called for a closed session to discuss the Scott firm. It sued the city in 2013 after a foul-up torpedoed its bid to demolish the old city parking ramp.

Scott was the low bidder, but its representative was late to deliver the bid because a city employee said the bid had to be turned in at the city’s engineering firm in Buffalo. By the time the worker drove to Buffalo, learned that the bid was due in Lockport City Hall and returned, he was half an hour past the deadline.

The city hired Empire Dismantlement of Grand Island to tear down the ramp, for $153,000 more than Scott Lawn Yard would have charged. Scott sued the city, but dropped the suit a month later after the contractor agreed to consider Scott for some subcontracting work on the replacement of the ramp with a surface parking lot.