There’s excitement in the air about a statewide effort to “Reimagine” the Erie Canal.

Organizers might excuse a potential lack of enthusiasm in Lockport where residents who have for years advocated for the repair or replacement of the long-shuttered Adam Street Bridge might be wondering why more general maintenance of existing canal infrastructure isn’t being done first. 

The state’s Reimagine the Canal initiative, an effort to identify new uses for the canal, will hold a community engagement session at the Challenger Learning Center, 160 Washburn St., from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday. The effort follows a similar Reimagine the Canals initiative last year, a contest which solicited ideas to boost local economies, increase recreation and strengthen environmental resilience along the Erie Canal.

“These sessions are a great opportunity for the public to help shape the future of the Erie Canal,” said Joanie Mahoney, the Reimagine the Canals Task Force chair.

A similar initiative in 2018 resulted in plans to spend $2.5 million on the construction of a pocket neighborhood in the Village of Canastota and the Erie Armada, a multi-day festival and boat race rolled into one that would put a focus on the craft breweries on or near the Erie Canal.

While the potentially promising projects are certainly welcome, it’s hard to reconcile the state’s willingness to invest more than $2 million on such things when it has consistently held, for many years now, that there’s no money in the budget to repair or replace the Adam Street Bridge, an historic structure that was for decades prior to it falling into a state disrepair, part of an enhanced experience along the canal in Lockport. 

This year, the task force is asking for public input on several areas affecting the Erie Canal, including: 

Potential new uses to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers;

How the Canal can support and enhance economic development;

New opportunities to enhance recreation and tourism;

Ways the Canal can mitigate impacts from flooding and ice jams, improve resiliency and restore ecosystems in canal communities and

Opportunities to use Canal infrastructure to expand irrigation for Western New York farms.

In addition to serving as task force chair, Mahoney, New York State Thruway Authority chair and former Onondaga County executive, will serve as regional lead for the central region. Former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy will be regional lead for the Western region, while former Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens will be regional lead for the Mohawk Valley.

The task force is expected to present its recommendations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo by the end of the year.

While Lockport and other communities directly tied to the canal are clearly impacted by its attractiveness, the future of the Erie Canal is a matter that impacts people living in Niagara Falls and other villages, towns and cities where tourism is valued as a key component of the local economy.

We strongly encourage residents across the county to attend Monday’s session and let their voices be heard where recommendations on improving the experience along the Erie Canal are concerned. 

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