May 03, 2013 Erin Wisneski Uncategorized
The New York State Canal System officially opened Wednesday. However, due to state budget cuts, boaters will experience restricted hours at most locks along the 500-plus mile waterway.
Dozens of New York State Canal Corporation employees will be laid off, which will result in a reduction of operational hours at most locks. Under normal conditions, each lock is staffed with a lock chief and lock operator; during the summer, a seasonal lock operator is brought on to help with extended hours and maintenance .The Central New York area has lost 10 lock operators, alone.
“Many of these operators are second and third generation canalers,” said Mark Kotzin, spokesperson for CSEA Local 1000 AFSCME AFL-CIO.
While the locks will operate on a standard spring schedule (7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily) through May 22, the effect of budget cuts will really be seen as of May 23, when locks typically extend hours for the summer season. This summer, most locks will only be operational from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Only five have retained the typical summer hours, which are from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 23 through Sept. 11. These include locks in Baldwinsville (24), Brewerton (23), Seneca Falls (CS-2/3) and Waterloo (CS-4).
“It looks like Baldwinsville, at this point, won’t see a reduction because it is one of the busiest locks,” Kotzin said.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t have an economic impact on the village. Even though Baldwinsville isn’t seeing a cutback in hours, surrounding locks are including the eight locks along the Oswego Canal, which includes one in Phoenix, one in Minetto and three in both Fulton and Oswego. According to officials, there are no lock operators on the entire Oswego Canal – each lock has only the lock chief covering operations. With the restricted hours, boaters coming from the Oswego Canal will have to make their return trip home four hours earlier.
“This could still have a strong economic impact on Baldwinsville,” Kotzin said, adding those opposed to the budget cuts should contact the governor’s office to voice their disapproval.
The economical impact isn’t the only concern. The canal system has an aging infrastructure, which is more than 100 years old. Kotzin said those employees that are being laid off have the knowledge and experience to maintain the system.
“This creates significant safety concerns,” he said. “When the season gets busy, they need all hands on deck – they aren’t going to have the staff to maintain the locks. Stuff is breaking down and they don’t have the people to fix it.”
Baldwinsville Mayor Joseph Saraceni agreed.
“We want to ensure that this historic piece of New York State is maintained,” Saraceni said.