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President Emeritus of the Canal Society of New York State Thomas Grasso describes a canal lock model to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul during a 2017 tour of the Port Bryon Old Erie Canal Heritage Park.

A plan to redevelop a portion of the old Erie Canal in Brutus and Mentz could be in jeopardy if the village of Port Byron fails to participate, and that would be a step in the wrong direction.

The Erie Canal Rewatering and Trail Connections Project would entail rewatering a presently unusable portion of the Erie Canal for recreational use and enhancing the canalside trail between Port Byron and Weedsport.

A feasibility study found that the plan can indeed be successfully accomplished, and the village of Port Byron received a state grant last year of more that $400,000 to get things started. Since then, however, Port Byron officials have become concerned that the project could exacerbate flooding issues in the village and have decided that sharing in the additional costs — about $16,000 a year for three years — would be too much too ask of village taxpayers.

Advocates for the project envision a tourism draw for the area, with opportunities for businesses renting canoes and kayaks to visitors. The related trail connection project would accommodate bicycling, rollerblading, strollers and walking between the villages of Weedsport and Port Byron, with the possibility of expanding even farther in the future.

Port Byron dropping out as the lead agency and a funding source wouldn't necessarily kill the project, but it's possible the state will lose interest in providing future grant opportunities if the municipalities in this canal corridor aren't all committed to working cooperatively.

Brutus and Mentz are in a prime position to become an important part of a larger state tourism initiative involving the Erie Canal. The newer canal heritage park in Port Byron is a growing attraction for visitors, and additional canal upgrades such as the rewatering and trail initiative can build on that success.

We hope the Port Byron village board takes another look at the potential benefits of this project and works to help figure out a way to help make it happen.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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