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Canal Corp. will have tree stumps removed, grass planted – in fall and winter

Photos by Tom Rivers: Two bicyclists from York, Pa., ride on the Erie Canal Towpath in Albion last Nov. 2 when a contractor was in the area removing trees alongside the canal. The Canal Corporation said the tree stumps will be removed after the navigational season ends on Oct. 10. Besides removing the stumps, the areas where trees were removed will have grass planted.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 June 2018 at 10:23 am

Residents share displeasure about tree-clearing

Brian Stratton, director of the Canal Corp., told the group at the Hoag Library that the tree removal was necessary to keep the canal safe.

ALBION – Canal Corp. officials agreed with local residents that the embankments where trees were cut down last fall are still an unsightly mess.

It’s going to look bad for most of the rest of 2018, Canal Corp. officials said on Wednesday during a meeting at Hoag Library.

But it will start to look better not long after when the canal’s navigational system ends on Oct. 10. The Canal Corp. is working on a contract to have the stumps and root systems removed, and also to have grass or a “grassy material” planted on the slopes, said John Callaghan, the canal’s deputy director.

The tree removal started last October when the Canal Corp. hired Mohawk Valley Materials from Utica to remove trees on 146 acres of canal-owned land from Medina to Fairport. The loss of trees upset many residents who lost privacy and felt the canal was diminished with the trees chopped down.

Bruce Schmidt of Gaines told the Canal Corp. during Wednesday’s meeting that the public and local elected officials were caught off guard by the tree clearing.

“A lot of this was a surprise to people,” Schmidt said.

He urged the Canal Corp. to share more details with the next phases of the “vegetative management plan.”

David Mellen, director of construction management for the Canal Corporation, said the Canal Corp. has held six public meetings now about the project. The Canal Corp. values the public input, he said.

David Mellen, director of construction management for the Canal Corporation, said the Canal Corp. would have been “reckless” to allow the trees along the embankment.

During Wednesday’s meeting Mellen went over why the tree cutting was necessary, especially in Orleans County where 50 acres of trees were removed. Mellen said many sections of the canal in Orleans were identified as high risk for compromised embankments due to tall trees right by the canal. Those trees have roots that burrow deep in the soil, making the canal vulnerable to leaks and potentially to catastrophic blowouts, he said.

Brian Stratton, director of the canal Corp., noted the canal was originally built about 200 years ago, from 1817 and 1825. It was last expanded in 1918. Trees in the past century have sprouted up on embankments, which makes the canal vulnerable, not only from the roots but in case a tree topples over.

“We want to make sure the canal continues to go, that it continues to be beautiful, and that it continues to be safe,” Stratton told about 60 people in a packed meeting room at the library.

This rendering from the Canal Corp. shows a compromised canal with tree roots burrowing into the soil.

This rendering shows the preferred condition of embankments without any trees.

The tree clearing made it to Spencerport until being halted in early February after a lawsuit from the towns of Brighton, Pittsford and Perinton.

The contractor was able to complete about 65-70 percent of phase 1 of the tree removal until the work was stopped, Mellen said.

The company has some cleanup work that remains in Orleans County and Brockport. It has until June 30 to finish the work. That doesn’t include stump removal and grass plantings, which are part of phase 2.

Residents asked if more trees will come in Orleans County by the canal. Mellen said all of the trees identified as high risk have been removed from the county. No more are planned to be cut down.

Bruce Schmidt of Gaines said residents and elected officials weren’t fully aware of the impact of the tree removal.

The Canal Corp. was asked about the loss of privacy and if any new screening will be added. Callaghan, the Canal Corp. deputy director, said the agency will put in smaller trees away from the embankment for screening. The Canal Corp. will meet with homeowners on a case by case basis, with input from arborists.

One canal resident in Knowlesville said her house sits below the canal and the tree clearing has left her property exposed.

“It’s just horrible coming home from work everyday and seeing my home,” she said. “It’s annihilated.”

John Callaghan, the canal’s deputy director, said embankments will look better after this navigational season. He went over some of the next steps, including stump removal and backfill of voids. There will be grading, seeding, some drainage construction, and vegetative screening. The Canal Corp. also wants to add more access points so towpath users aren’t cutting through private backyards.

Lynn Hill, a Barre town councilman, said the Canal Corp. shouldn’t have left embankments in such an unsightly condition this year. He was angry with the lack of specifics in how the Canal Corp. plans to create grassy slopes where the trees used to stand.

“The place looks like hell right now with just stumps hanging there and no vegetation,” Hill said. “There’s no going back. You’ve cut down the trees.”

Mellen said the details of the next contract are being worked out. The contract will be approved with work to start in the fall after the canal navigational season ends and water is drained from the system.

Many of the Canal Corp.’s top leaders were at the meeting in Albion. They were thanked for their presence by Albion Mayor Eileen Banker and Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature. They asked that the Canal Corp. consider residents’ concerns in the next phases.

Paul Hendel, a member of the Murray Town Board and chairman of the Orleans Economic Development Agency, said the canal is a critical resource for the county and effects many businesses.

Holley Mayor Brian Sorochty said the tree-clearing has made other trees vulnerable to strong winds.

Hendel told the Canal Corp. that the EDA and local communities want to be partners in realizing the potential of the canal as an economic driver.

Johnson noted the county and the Village of Medina will be developing comprehensive plans to realize the potential of the canal as a cultural, economic and tourism attraction.

Brian Sorochty, the Village of Holley mayor, said some of the canal neighbors in Holley have lost additional trees since the tree-clearing. The canal trees provided a buffer and wind break for trees by homes. Once the buffer was gone, other trees were more vulnerable. Sorochty said three of his trees have toppled from wind since the canal trees were removed, and one of his neighbors has lost several trees.

“There are ramifications and it’s not just privacy,” Sorochty said. “There is now a wind issue. It’s noticeably different and it’s forever changed.”

Callaghan said the Canal Corp. is determined to address residents’ concerns.

“We have a ‘If we broke it, we’ll fix it’ mentality,” he said. “Our goal is to make the residents more safe.”

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