Despite suffering extensive damage from tropical storms Irene and Lee last summer, the New York State Barge Canal will open for its 188th consecutive navigation season at 10 a.m. today, slightly ahead of the usual May 1 opening date.
The only part of the system not opening today, the Champlain Canal, will open Sunday, which still is ahead of schedule, according to Canal Corp. spokesman R.W. Groneman.
The Canal Corp. has spent about $30 million since the fall of 2011 in emergency repairs, Groneman said.
"The canal is in working order," he said. "There is still some work to be done, but we are operational."
Damage to the canal system from the two tropical storms extended from Lock 7 in Niskayuna to Lock 12 in Tribes Hill. At Lock 10 in Cranesville, east of the city of Amsterdam, gravel and woody debris were deposited outside the lock gates during the flood, and the gates could not operate properly. The debris and gravel were removed by an excavator, and the breach in the lock was repaired by depositing 85,000 tons of stone fill on the site.
At Lock 11 in Amsterdam, a section of the canal dam was twisted, and the flood waters surged in a new direction. Guy Park Manor, located near the lock, was heavily damaged as well. The historic building is owned by the Canal Corp. and is currently being repaired. It is the home of the Walter Elwood Museum; the contents of the museum are being stored at the former Fuccillo Auto Plaza on West Main Street.
The Main Street bridge at Lock 12 connecting Tribes Hill and Fort Hunter was closed for several weeks after Tropical Storm Irene.
Barges carrying three vintage planes - a Mi G-15, a Douglas F-3D Skynight and a Supermarine Scimitar - will be the first boats to use the canal after it opens today.
The three airplanes were removed from the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City to make room for the space shuttle Enterprise, Groneman said. They were loaded onto barges in Manhattan on April 18 to be taken to the Empire State Aerosciences Museum near the Schenectady County Airport in Glenville.
"The Erie Canal continues to make history," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release. "Within months of unprecedented damage because of record floods, New York's Canal system is up and running. Today, this historic waterway remains the preferred route for the transport of these treasured warplanes."
The May 1 opening date has been used for planning purposes, Groneman said. The actual opening date depends on weather conditions. In 2011, the canal system opened two weeks late because of heavy rainfall and higher-than-normal snowfall.
"We've had somewhat low precipitation this winter and spring, but we have sufficient water to operate the canal," Groneman said.
John R. Becker covers Montgomery County news. He can be reached at email@example.com.