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Apr 27, 2021

Erie Canal New York Senate BillsRecent moves by the New York State Canal System’s parent New York Power Authority (NYPA) to drastically reduce the 524-mile waterway’s annual six-month operating season would be prevented under a proposed New York Senate Bill S.5958 by establishing a fixed annual operating season from “early May through November.”

Introduced by New York state Senator Rachel May, S.5958 also aims to confirm availability of critical winter dry dockage for tour vessels, a long-standing practice that enabled critical U.S. Coast Guard safety inspections and maintenance. NYPA first rescinded this dockage in 2018, which today continues to threaten the viability of tour boat operations. S.5958 is currently in the New York State Senate Transportation Committee and seeking additional sponsors.

A companion bill, S.5959, also in the New York Senate Transportation Committee and sponsored by Sen. May, is concurrently seeking legislator support. It would ensure meetings of the 24-member Canal Recreationway Commission, which was created in 1992 to advise the Canal Corporation and its parent on canal-related activities, are held regularly. S.5959 would remove NYPA’s controlling ability to neglect to call meetings through its appointed commission chairperson. The legislation notes the commission, whose goal is preservation, enhancing recreation, and fostering sustainable economic development, has not met since NYPA took over the canal in 2017.

Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), with more than 45,000 members in the Empire State, is urging recreational boaters and all canal advocates to help ensure both bills S.5958 and S.5959 move out of committee, gain additional sponsors and are enacted into law by the end of the current legislative season scheduled to adjourn June 10. BoatUS has set up an easy way to reach out to New York legislators here.

According to S.5958 legislation, beginning with the 2017 Canal Corporation’s transfer to NYPA, the length of the navigation season “has been drastically reduced.” At that time, the navigation season was first shortened – without public debate or input from stakeholders – from May 15 to October 11, a reduction of nearly two months from the previously established seasons, “causing immeasurable harm to businesses such as tour boat companies and marinas, reducing economic impact of the canal in communities all across the canal corridor.”

As recently as February, NYPA was contemplating an even shorter navigation season for 2021, initially proposing a season from Memorial Day through mid-September, slicing off 100 days and potentially leaving just half the scheduled season that was embraced prior to 2017. That move was walked back to the current May 21 to October 13 operating season after widespread condemnation from canal communities, legislators, recreational boaters and tour boat operators. However, daily operating hours remain reduced over prior years, decreasing the availability for recreational vessel and tour boat transits. 

S.5958’s proposed six-month operating season would also align with the established federal lock operating seasons at Troy, New York, and Black Rock, New York, gateways to the Erie Canal, and still permit some variance for annual maintenance and unforeseen weather events.

“To date, NYPA actions upon the navigation season have shown a lack of concern for boaters, maritime constituents and canal communities,” said BoatUS Vice President of Public Affairs Scott Croft. “We hope S.5958 and S.5959 will realign NYPA’s priorities to allow maritime activity to flourish. Recreational boaters, marinas, tour boats, and a range of businesses along the canal can’t operate when NYPA chooses to unilaterally shorten the operating season and doesn’t let anyone know until just a few weeks prior to opening,” said Croft.