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Repairs will cause part of Erie Canal to close

The Erie Canal between Middleport and Brockport will be closed for “several weeks,” starting June 27, because the waterway is leaking dangerously into an underground culvert in eastern Orleans County.

Shane Mahar, spokesman for the state Canal Corp., said Friday that the only way to repair the leak is to drain the canal.

The duration of the emergency repairs isn’t known, although Mahar said a meeting of engineers Monday may provide some more detailed answers.

The leak is located about 500 yards west of the Hulberton Lift Bridge in the Town of Murray, Mahar said. That’s about halfway between the villages of Albion and Holley.

“That area of the canal has an elevated embankment,” Mahar said. Culverts take local streams under the canal.

Recently, state crews in the area on another maintenance project noticed that the flow through the culvert at the Hulberton bridge seemed unusually strong and investigated the matter.

Mahar said they found that the heavy timbers that acted as forms for the concrete culvert had deteriorated and that canal water was leaking into the culvert.

Engineers for Bergmann Associates of Rochester, the Canal Corp., the Department of Transportation and the New York Power Authority, which is taking over the state canal system from the Thruway Authority on Jan. 1, concluded that repairs needed to be immediate.

“Guard gates” to block the water will be installed at Middleport and Brockport next Monday, and the water in the canal will be drained through underground structures called “waste weirs” into local creeks. It’s the same process used when the canal is dewatered each November.

Mahar said that there are six to eight private docking areas within the canal section to be closed, where boaters are being asked to remove their boats from the water by next Sunday.

The Canal Corp. is willing to assist in towing boats if necessary, but the state will accept no liability for damage for boats towed or those left in the canal, according to a statement from the Canal Corp.

Long-distance boat traffic will be detoured, and the Canal Corp. has set up a hotline for information on alternative routes: 518-471-5014.

The Erie Canalway Trail will not be affected, except for a 3,500-foot stretch west of the Hulberton bridge, where traffic will be detoured via Canal Road.

After preliminary construction work has started, the canal will be refilled between Middleport and a guard gate just west of Albion. However, the 15-mile Albion-to-Brockport segment will remain dry until all the work is done.