Canal Corp. holds public meeting on tree removal project

(WHAM photo)

Perinton, N.Y. – A hotly-debated project on portions of the Erie Canal was the focus of a special meeting Wednesday night in Perinton.

It was the first of two meetings scheduled for this week concerning the New York State Canal Corporation’s Vegetation Management Project. That project calls for the removal of trees and other plant life from certain parts of the canal. According to the corporation, the goal of the project is to remove vegetation that could cause damage to embankments along the waterway.

The project itself has been the focus of criticism of some living along the canal and others who say they utilize it for recreational purposes. Among their concerns: Potentially negative impacts on the aesthetics of the canal and tourism.

The Canal Corporation hoped Wednesday’s meeting would clear up some questions and concerns.

“We hope they know more about the project,” said Canal Corporation Executive Deputy Director John Callaghan. “We hope they go home tonight with a better understanding of how completing this work will make them safe, their families safer, and ensure the canal’s here for people to enjoy and recreate upon for generations."

The corporation says the present amount of plant life gets in the way of safety inspections, and also creates the risk of sudden embankment failures.

“Elevated canal embankments act as earthen dams, retaining water so canals can be navigated during the navigation season,” Callaghan explained. “But these embankments really suspend the level of the canal high above the surrounding terrain. In some cases, the level of the water is equal to the second or third story of people’s homes.”

The areas being targeted by the project include the Brockport/Spencerport/Ogden area, where work has already begun. That work was halted due to concerns associated with recent weather. Work is expected to resume later this month, with trees along portions of the canal in Pittsford, Brighton and Perinton scheduled to be removed as well. According to the corporation, the specific areas were chosen following a review by the firm Rizzo Associates, which classified certain areas as “high hazard.” They say, in these areas, the failure of an embankment could result in widespread damage and deaths.

The analysis changed the mind of Doug Kucmarowski of Brockport, who had trees removed from his backyard along the canal. He says he was initially opposed to the project.

“We heard about it when we returned home from a visit down south,” he recalled. “And our neighbors came over and said, ‘They’re going to cut all the trees down along the canal, and you have to do something about it!’”

Kucmarowski met with members of the Canal Corporation and did some research – research he says helped him get past initial concerns and convince him that this was an issue of safety.

“I’ve never found any document that says trees belong on the earthen canal,” he said. “We could go into great detail about all the different ways this could be fixed, but trees can’t be there.”

But the Canal Corporation's presentation did not convince John Gehret of Fairport. He said he left the meeting with more questions than answers.

“We know, down in the Everglades, that the tree roots keep the soil stable,” said Gehret. “And so here, their concern is it would destabilize. That does not sound like the right answer. To me, it’s guesswork. And I would like to know, if they guess wrong and we get a canal collapse because they took the trees out, who’s going to go to jail?”

Gehret called for another review to determine whether or not removing the trees could end up posing more problems in the long run.

But Kucmarowski says the time for reviews is over.

“Solutions are what’s needed, not resistance to change,” he said. “You lose all the time because it’s safety. Safety is number one.”

A second meeting, hosted by the Canal Corporation, is scheduled for Thursday night at 6 p.m. It will be held in Pittsford, at Mendon High School.

To read more about the Canal Corporation’s plan, click here.

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