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Legislators push for Erie Canal opening as lock repairs resume

Off-season repairs to Erie Canal locks in Lockport and Henrietta resumed Monday, but those moves don't necessarily mean the canal will open to navigation this summer.

The state Canal Corp. said Thursday that the purpose of the work, which halted in mid-March because of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's economic "pause" order, is to allow enough water to flow into the western segments of the canal to allow local farmers to draw on it for irrigation.

Meanwhile, 18 state legislators representing communities along the canal have written letters to the New York Power Authority calling for the full reopening of the canal system this year.

"We are confident that with the proper protections in place, this highly skilled and experienced workforce can quickly and effectively open the Canal System for full navigational use," the legislators' letter said.

Also, the Lockport Common Council on Wednesday passed a resolution calling for the canal to open.

The Canal Corp., a NYPA subsidiary, announced April 23 the canal would not open as scheduled May 15.

"The Canal Corporation is currently evaluating operational options to ensure New Yorkers will have access to the Canal system, if even potentially on a regional basis, this season," said the online notice, which has not been updated.

A delay because of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic slowdown is understandable, the legislators' letter said, but "there is an uneasy sense the opening may not happen at all."

That would be a heavy blow to canal communities' hopes of reviving their economies in the wake of the pandemic, the legislators wrote.

As the canal is filled in Western New York, canal workers called "bank walkers” will return to monitoring the condition of the canal embankments, and maintenance workers will start mowing the grass along the embankments, the agency said.

All Canal Corp. employees will follow proper health and safety protocols associated with Covid-19, the agency said.

State Sen. Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda and Assembly members Angelo J. Morinello of Niagara Falls, Stephen Hawley of Batavia and Robin Schimminger of the Town of Tonawanda signed a group letter last week to NYPA President Gil C. Quiniones. Assemblyman Michael J. Norris of Lockport sent his own letter.

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