Medina Journal-Register — The efforts to drain the Erie Canal kicked into another gear Wednesday, with the closure of a guard gate in Middleport, but the efforts to respond to a dangerous leak in the canal outside of Albion have already made waves in a number of areas.
The effects of drying out the region’s top tourist attraction will not last long, as New York State Canal Corporation officials expect a one-to-two week period to inspect, assess and repair damage done under and alongside Albion Eagle Harbor Road.
Boating has been suspended for the 25 miles-long section between Middleport and Holley, with guard gates closed so as to draw down water levels. That necessitated the use of a crane to pull three for-hire boats operated by a Wayne County-based business out of the waters west of the closure and onto flatbed trucks to deliver them back to their home harbor.
Canal Corporation spokesman R.W. Groneman said about a dozen boaters have been assisted in the areas where water will be drained in the next two days.
County Tourism Director Wayne Hale said preventing boaters out of the canal wouldn’t place a significant dent on tourism to canalside communities, as four out of five visitors come to Medina, Albion and Holley by land.
“Fortunately they can still experience the culverts and widewaters areas,” Hale said. “The villages are still open.”
Medina Tourism Committee member Jim Hancock had similar views. While many boaters come to the village to shop and eat, Hancock said, many more come by cars and bikes.
Hancock said there are no plans to delay the Concert by the Canal, which is scheduled to take place in the Canal Basin Park Aug. 11 (see story on Page 3). Events like the weekly farmer’s market and car cruise should also do well despite the sudden drop in canalside ambience.
In an agricultural year where draught-like conditions have seemingly continued without assistance from the clouds for months, any change to the water system will cause problems.
Chris Watt, whose Gaines farm is one of dozens that draw water from a canal-fed stream, said the tonnage of stone that was used to fill in the canal leak Monday had made the waters near his farm a muddy, gritty mess.
”Part of our farm is on a stream that was turned into a mess,” Watt said. “I have a five acre lake that looks like a mud pie ... If I empty out my pond I’m done.”
Watt said he’s reached out to the DEC and EPA with his concerns about the Canal Corporation’s plans to drain the canalway, which he said would increase the grit and mud in surrounding waters.
”It was an emergency situation and we’re trying to get back to where we were,” Groneman said when told of Watt’s concerns. “Our first interest was plugging the hole.”
In other cases, Groneman said, the Canal Corporation has granted permission for about a half-dozen farmers to have water flushed onto their fields.
Gary Kludt, the President of the Orleans County Farm Bureau, said the larger issue has been the lack of rain.
”(Despite not irrigating from the canal) we’re in the same boat,” Kludt, whose family operates a large farm in Kendall, said. “It’s part of farming, anything can happen.”
The sight of a waterless canal the next few days shows that’s the case for the community as well.