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Great Lakes Article:

As Water Rose, Business Sank
By Bryon Ackerman
The Utica Observer-Dispatch
Published September 19, 2006


What's the saying? A rising tide lifts all ships?

That wasn't the case this summer on the Erie Canal: More water meant less activity, less boating and less commerce.

For instance:

•Canal locks handled more than 80,000 boat passages from April 27 to Aug. 3 last year. The comparable number was about 57,000 this year, state officials say.

•The Ilion Marina only had about 100 boats docked this summer, compared to 211 last year. About $25,000 in business was lost, Harbormaster Don Sterling said.

•Frankfort's marina lost money, Little Falls' had fewer dockings, and canal-side Sylvan Beach and Utica businesses struggled, those communities said.

"The season was lost," Sterling said. "It was a terrible season."

High expectations

Everything was set for the summer of 2006 to be the most successful season ever for the state Canal Corporation and canal-side communities.

After waiving recreational tolls for the first time since 1994 and beginning new marketing and public relations campaigns, expectations were high, Canal Corp. Director Carmella Mantello said.

"Then gas prices went up," she said. "Then Mother Nature gave us a walloping."

Gasoline prices might have discouraged some boaters, but flooding June 28 had a much more direct effect on boaters' plans.

About 30 percent of the canal was closed for about two weeks, which included the important July Fourth weekend, Mantello said.

The canal wasn't 100 percent open again until Aug. 19, she said. The most troubles were in the Lock 10 area on the eastern end.

The local pinch

Kitty's on the Canal in Utica lost about 30 percent of its outdoor dining business compared to last year, owner and manager Dave Morgan said.

Less traffic meant fewer boaters eating at the restaurant, he said. Although boaters make up only a small percentage of the business, many customers didn't show up because they usually like to look at the boats, Morgan said.

Also, summer had many days that were either too hot or too rainy, he added.

In the Little Falls Canal Harbor, 400 boaters docked overnight in 2005; only 150 did this year.

Harbormaster Tom Ryan said next year will be what this year would have been without the flood.

"I'm sure everyone along the canal is looking toward next season as providing the busiest season they've had in a long time," Ryan said.

Toughing it out

Zhu Lin, a worker at Chinese restaurant Main Moon Buffet in Ilion and the owner's nephew, said the restaurant typically makes some deliveries to boaters staying at the Ilion Marina.

He didn't know any specifics, but it seemed like there were fewer deliveries this year, he said.

Don and Jerry Snyder of Fort Pierce, Fla., have stayed in their recreational vehicle at the Ilion Marina for the past 10 years or longer because they are originally from this area, Jerry Snyder said.

In the month they have spent at the marina this year, they noticed significantly fewer boats than previous years, she said.

This decrease left harbormaster Sterling already looking forward to the 2007 season.

"I have full confidence in the marina coming back next year," Sterling said. "It's just unfortunate Mother Nature did a number on us this year."

Next year is a little less clear in Frankfort, where the Frankfort Harbor Marina has lost $53,000 since 1999, village Mayor Frank Moracco said.

The trend continued this year with $1,700 in losses and flood-damaged docks.

Plans for the marina will be discussed in an October meeting with Canal Corp. There is hope that RV sites and a campground can be set up, he said.

"We need to be able to make it a profitable venture for both the Canal Corporation and the village," Moracco said.

Marcy Marina owner Carol Thomas didn't know any specifics, but the flooding definitely cut down on traffic, she said.

"I don't think that was the only reason," Thomas said. "I think gas prices had a lot to do with it."

And rain throughout the summer — not just the rain during the flooding — kept people away from the canal, said Mike Giordano, marina associate at Mariner's Landing in Sylvan Beach.

"It's not a summer people wanted to enjoy on (Oneida) lake," he said.

The marina specifically was hurt by the closings of portions of the canal during July Fourth weekend, he said.

Although July Fourth weekend is typically a big moneymaker, every summer night of a usual season brings in a lot of money and nonstop business, Giordano said.

"This year, it's just nothing," he said. "There wasn't anything."

A study estimated that the canal has an economic impact of $384 million a year on communities and businesses along the canal, the Canal Corp.'s Mantello said.

One positive of this season was the Canal Splash. Nearly 50,000 people attended the more than 80 events, Mantello said.

Tourists visiting the canal this fall to view the foliage offer some hope of salvaging what is left of the season, she said.

The canal's summer hours ended Friday. The season comes to an end Nov. 15, but might extend a little longer if weather cooperates, she said.


* The canal system has extended its hours for the fall foliage season and will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Sunday, Oct. 15.


* Traditional hours of operation were 7a.m. to 5 p.m. from Sept. 16 to Nov. 15, when the system generally closes for winter maintenance.


* Hours of operation from Oct. 16 to Nov. 15 will continue to be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.














 

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