The New York Thruway Authority's decision to layoff 234 staff as part of a strategy to address its financial predicament includes the loss of 42 canal workers who maintain 57 locks along the 524-mile length of the Erie Canal that connects the Hudson River to Lake Erie in the west.
An online petition has sprung up called StopNYCanalCuts argues that the staff losses will impact on tourism, recreational boat usage and maintenance.
A sampling of petitioners comments includes:
The economic, historical and cultural value of the canal to upstate NY cannot be under estimated. Gutting it would be another blow to the economically challenged area.
Without reliable lock and water control mechanisms that are well maintained the whole system will spiral down
In a news release released Friday by the Civil Service Employees Union (CSEA) President Danny Donohue said:
“This is just a bad idea – the canals are an invaluable resource for New York State in so many ways. It is very important that we let the public know how this ill conceived plan will hurt people, businesses and communities.”
The Erie Canalway is a designated National Heritage Corridor, a heritage feature managed by state or non-profits with some input from the National Parks Service, and the Erie Canal was the focus of a 2006 Preservation and Management Plan. Thirteen so-called "canal communities" received $1.3 million dollars in the second round of Regional Economic Development Council grants last December.
In comments reported by the Innovation Trail in 2011, former Schenectady mayor and director of the New York State Canal Corporation Brian Stratton, called the Erie Canal an "economic lifeline."
The Erie Canalway Corridor Commission, a public-private partnership, gave the following statement to the Innovation Trail:
We work closely with our partners at the NYS Canal Corporation to advance our legendary canal system as a world class tourism destination. We do not have details about layoffs with the Canal Corporation or how they may impact services this year. Certainly, we hope that the Canal Corporation is able to operate at full capacity so that the canal system can continue to serve as an economic driver for tourism activities across upstate New York.
The canal has also been the site for various redevelopments, as central and upstate New York cities re-evaluate the value of waterways and waterfronts.