With an emphasis on tourism and flood mitigation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a $300 million plan to bolster the New York State Canal System.
The plan, which is part of Cuomo's 2020 State of the State agenda, is based on recommendations from a task force assigned to determine how to "reimagine" the canal system. The Erie Canal was a major waterway for commercial purposes in the 19th and 20th centuries, but it is now mainly used for recreation.
A majority of the funding — $165 million — would be invested this year. A $100 million economic development fund would be established for communities along the canal system and $65 million would be used for flood mitigation and to prevent ice jams near Schenectady.
Cuomo's office said the remaining $135 million would be allocated for research and other projects, such as efforts to prevent invasive species, flood mitigation and ecosystem restoration.
The plan, according to Cuomo, will complement the Empire State Trail — a 750-mile route connecting every region of the state. The trail will be completed at the end of this year.
"When the Erie Canal was created in the 19th century it set the state and the nation on a path to prosperity, and this year we will repurpose the canal to fit our state's 21st century needs," Cuomo said in a statement.
There are already five projects designated to receive state support from the $100 million economic development fund. The initial round includes establishing a new water sports course near Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge on the Cayuga-Seneca county line and "movable dams" in Amsterdam and Canajoharie.
Through the Reimagine the Canals competition, a canalside pocket neighborhood will be developed in Canastota, Madison County. Guy Park Manor along the Mohawk River in Amsterdam will be revitalized and a pedestrian bridge will be constructed across the canal lock.
Rounding out the projects is the "Brockport Loop" linking the Empire State Trail to SUNY Brockport in Monroe County. The project will include transforming a canal guard gate into a pedestrian bridge with an overlook. It will be supported by a $2 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.
Other priorities outlined in the plan include establishing an irrigation district in western New York to ensure farmers have access to water, especially if drought conditions are present during the summer, and restoring wetlands by releasing water from the canal to boost Lake Ontario tributaries.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who noted she lives near the Erie Canal in western New York, believes the plan can make the canal "a major tourism magnet."
"The canals have played a crucial role in New York's history and growth, and with the implementation of these new exciting projects, the canals will remain a vital force and make a positive contribution to the economic well-being and quality of life in the 225 communities they travel through," Hochul said.
Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.
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