Officials of the New York State Canal Corp. would do well not to repeat the mistakes made down the Thruway in cutting down hundred of trees along the historic waterway without adequate notice.
Maple, cherry, willow and ash were among the trees removed along the Erie Canal by contractors. This green massacre occurred along raised canal-owned embankments in Orleans and Monroe counties. Some of the trees had diameters of up to 2 feet.
The work was the start of the Canal Corp.’s scheduled work at 56 locations covering 145 acres along Erie Canal embankments in the two counties. The chairman of the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp. said he is unaware of plans for the same to be done in Niagara County.
He should check to be sure.
The Canal Corp. has a report on vegetation management indicating a stretch between Buffalo and Rochester with “numerous active seepage locations along our embankments.” Erie County has been pegged as safe for now because its embankments are different from those in Orleans and Monroe counties, according to a spokesman from the New York Power Authority. The Power Authority assumed ownership of the New York State Canal Corp. in 2017.
Leaders at the Canal Corp. worry that tree roots will compromise the embankments. History reveals what could happen if left unattended: Bushnell’s Basin near Rochester in 1974 was flooded when an embankment gave way. Closer to home, a sinkhole near the Albion Correctional Facility “sucked” a portion of the embankment into the canal just west of the village.
The Canal Corp. said it had identified “numerous active seepage locations” along embankments between Rochester and Buffalo. It is monitoring the situation. But how much of that stewardship involves notification?
Albion Mayor Eileen Banker, while speaking about the sinkhole in 2012, said that this latest action came as a shock: “I don’t think we knew what to expect until they already started doing it.”
Several people in Holley said they got little warning from the state before the work began and knew little of what to expect. This is a society that thrives on communication; lack of it is cause for concern. That is why environmental laws exist, so that people can digest what is happening and, with diligence, come to a common ground.
Town boards in Brighton, Perinton and Pittsford joined in a lawsuit against the state Canal Corp. to block the tree-cutting, which is now on hold. A state judge found in the towns’ favor and decided that the Canal Corp. did not follow state environmental laws when the work began.
As Erin Moscati, sustainability education manager at the University at Buffalo, said: “We’re losing so many trees in the region, anyway, with all of our ash trees dying, that is another reason why it is so emotionally upsetting to see these healthy trees being cut down.”
The reasons for “canal vegetation management” may be valid but the explanation is bound to ring hollow to residents when it is undertaken as subterfuge.