OSWEGO — The Oswego Canal is closed indefinitely due to high water levels as the New York State Canal System is set to open Friday.
State officials announced the May 17 start of the 2019 navigation season in a Tuesday press release, but portions of the Erie, Champlain and Oswego canals will have their openings postponed indefinitely. Local officials lamented the delay, which comes after of two consecutive years of increased boating traffic.
“Safety is always our top priority on the canals and we need to ensure water conditions do not pose a hazard for boaters as well as for canal employees,” said Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton. “We know people are eager to get out on the water and we’ll make sure that happens as soon as conditions allow.”
In addition to the Oswego and Champlain canals, the opening of the Erie Canal from Lock E-8 in Scotia to E-22 in Rome, and from Lock E-24 in Baldwinsville to Lock E-27 Lyons is postponed indefinitely due to high water from heavy rain and snow melt.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow called the canal closure “another negative consequence” of regulators’ poor management and administration of the area’s waterways.
“The damage is now turning from exclusively physical damage to economic damage,” Barlow said Tuesday, noting boaters are cancelling boat slips, or hesitating to purchase boat slips at the city’s marina. “And now with the closure of the canal it makes our marina and our area slightly less appealing.”
Barlow said the canal facilitates a lot of traffic through the city’s waters over the summer, and if the canal fails to open it would “certainly be a significant economic loss.”
The Erie Canal, form Lock E-2 in Waterford to E-8 in Scotia, and from Lock 28A in Lyons to Lock 35 in Lockport, as well as the Cayuga-Seneca Canal will open as scheduled May 17. The navigation season runs through Oct. 16.
Boating access to the western end of Oneida Lake from Erie Canal Lock E-23 in Brewerton will be open, according to canal officials, who noted the lock typically receives the highest volume of boaters during navigation season.
Oswego County Tourism and Planning Director Dave Turner said with the heavy precipitation the area has experienced this spring the closure of the canal isn’t a surprise, especially considering the ongoing construction at Lock 7 near the Utica Street Bridge.
“There are folks that will be disappointed and we’ll be disappointed not to have them traversing the canal,” Turner said, noting with the improvements at Lock 7, the experience will be better for boaters when the canal does open.
The high water levels are not without precedent, and Turner said there has been at least one instance in the past decade when the opening was delayed due to wet weather.
Canal Corporation spokesman Steven Gosset said officials do not yet have an indication of when the Oswego Canal could reopen.
“It’s all going to depend on weather conditions,” Gosset said. “It’s too early to say. We won’t open until it’s safe and we just want to take every precaution. Safety is our top priority.”
Gosset said conditions ultimately depend on the amount of runoff and the flow of tributaries entering the Oswego River, and officials “just don’t know when that’s going to happen.”
“These are events that are not within our control,” he said. “Mother Nature is having the final say, and we will be ready when conditions are favorable to be open and to make sure that everyone who uses the canal is safe.”
The Canal Corporation has waived tolls for recreational vessels through 2021 in an effort to encourage more boated to travel the 524-mile system.
Information on marinas is available at http://www.canals.ny.gov/wwwapps/boating/marinas.aspx.
Boaters can sign up for Notices to Mariners to receive real-time updates on canal conditions at http://www.canals.ny.gov/wwwapps/tas/tascanals/index.aspx.