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You are here You are here The Red Mill Inn News 2007 News 2006 Archive - Story  Story

Solo canal course plotted

By Douglass Dowty, Staff writer
 
June 09, 2006

 

Canal Corp. boss discusses the pluses of an independent agency in Baldwinsville talk

State Canal Corp. Director Carmella Mantello urged a mix of public and private officials to grasp the advantages of a statewide independent canal agency during a presentation Thursday in a newly refurbished Baldwinsville hotel alongside Lock 24.

Currently a subsidiary of the state Thruway Authority, the Canal Corp. is seeking to follow its own ambitions by focusing on the canal as an engine for economic growth, Mantello said.

"The Thruway has done a fantastic job appropriating millions for dollars for infrastructure," she said. "Now, we need to promote that infrastructure, to use that as a front door to promote tourism and economic development."

The missions of the Thruway Authority and Canal Corp. "have become very distinct and apart" since their coexistence began in 1992, she said.

At her side Thursday at the Red Mill Inn was Baldwinsville Mayor Dan O'Hara, a Democrat, who offered his support in the effort to divorce the two public entities. He said communities along the canal could work better in step with canal officials if the corporation did not remain in the shadow of the Thruway Authority.

"Change is difficult, but it's necessary," he said.

While several public officials seemed excited by the proposed venture, at least one Skaneateles cruise operator was skeptical.

"The financial stability of the canal itself isn't protected as well in the Legislature as in the Thruway system," said Peter Wiles Jr., of Mid-Lakes Navigation Co., during the discussion period. He suggested the know-how of the Thruway engineers and the constant revenue stream from tolls provide more stability than fighting to grab a slice from the general fund.

But Mantello countered that the Thruway Authority considers the canals secondary to the highways, and pointed out the $70 million in state money set aside for canals could be slashed at the whim of the Thruway Authority's board of directors.

As for the expertise, Mantello said the canals keep their own corps of engineers and workers to maintain water levels and infrastructure. Mantello said legislation would be introduced in the next few days to separate the two state entities. Other changes she proposed include:

  • Transferring canal funding from the Thruway Authority back to the state's general fund. Mantello said the canals cost about $80 million a year - including $70 million from Thruway coffers - while bringing in only $1.5 million in revenue.
  • Establishing an Erie Canal Greenway Council to oversee the expanding greenways, parks and trails network along the canals. This 39-member council would include 25 local municipality appointments, five gubernatorial appointees and nine non-voting state agency commissioners.
  • Forming an Empire State Greenway Alliance to bring together regional waterways support groups in an effort to pool and share ideas.

With the state Legislature only in session for another two weeks, Mantello said it's important to start a discussion now.

Jon Cooley, director of recreation and public programs for the Onondaga County Parks Department, said he was impressed by Mantello's enthusiasm.

"Her greatest asset is going grass roots, turning government upside down like here in Baldwinsville," he said.

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