First meeting held to develop waterfront plan for canal in Orleans County

Photos by Tom Rivers: Ed Flynn, project manager of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the canal communities in Orleans County, leads Tuesday’s meeting. Flynn works as a planner with LaBella. He is joined by Barbara Johnston, a principal planner with Labella. They are meeting with, clockwise from back right: Tom Lampo, planner with Orleans County; Jim Bensley, director of the county’s Planning Department; County Legislator Ken DeRoller; Chris Van Dusen, Murray representative; Tyler Allport, Gaines town councilman and Gaines representative; and Mark Bower, Holley representative.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 May 2019 at 4:45 pm

ALBION – The steering committee for the waterfront development plan for seven Erie Canal municipalities held its kickoff meeting on Tuesday, and set a goal for identifying projects in the coming months that can boost the local economy and better utilize the canal.

Orleans County received a $62,000 state grant in December to develop a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the canal communities outside the Village of Medina. That includes the towns of Shelby, Ridgeway, Gaines, Albion and Murray, and the villages of Albion and Holley.

The state recently added a new sign promoting the Empire State Trail, the towpath and trail system of the canal. This photo was taken during the winter near the Main Street lift bridge in Albion. A steering committee said the canal needs mile markers and more signage about services available in the canal towns.

Medina is working on its own LWRP and has been meeting for several months on the plan.

The county has hired LaBella as a consultant for the plan for the seven municipalities. The first meeting on Tuesday followed several years of effort to get the communities together to work on a plan.

Each of the municipalities has a representative who will weigh in on current strengths and weaknesses of the canal, and opportunities to make the historic waterway and towpath a bigger asset.

“This is the right time for us,” said County Legislator Ken DeRoller.

The state is looking to spend more money to promote the canal and make it a better resource for the canal communities. The canal’s new caretaker, the New York Power Authority, also has shown a commitment to improving the canal infrastructure, DeRoller said.

Gov. Cuomo and the State Legislature have made money available for the canal communities in recent years for economic development projects. The Orleans communities have tapped few of those funds, partly because there isn’t a waterfront revitalization plan in place.

The steering committee for the LWRP will be looking for ways to improve trail access, perhaps add a boat or kayak launch, improve signage (mile markers and information about services) and also try to identify economic development projects with businesses near the canal.

The committee will have three public sessions in the coming months with a goal to have the plan complete in about a year.

That document can then be used to help the municipalities pursue grant funding through the state.

The steering committee members include: Ken DeRoller, Orleans County; Jake Olles, Town of Albion; Samuel Robinson, Village of Albion; Tyler Allport, Town of Gaines; Mark Bower, Village of Holley; Chris Van Dusen, Town of Murray; Mary Woodruff, Town of Ridgeway; and Ed Houseknecht, Town of Shelby.

Only half of the group attended the first meeting. DeRoller said this is a great opportunity for the communities to brainstorm ways to capitalize on the canal, which a nationally known brand passing through the county.

The plan also will look at opportunities 500 feet from the canal in the towns, and 1,000 feet from the canal in the villages.

The committee considered some of the strengths of the canal in Orleans County. They noted the county has seven of the 16 lift bridges on the canal, intact historic downtowns, and other historic assets (Cobblestone Museum, Courthouse Square, historic cemeteries).

DeRoller said the recent opening of 39 Problems in Albion and Holley Falls Bar & Grill are important sites for the downtowns, and desired places for tourists.

The county has a strong agricultural sector that siphons from the canal during dry periods when crops need water.

DeRoller also pushed for a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for the Lake Ontario waterfront in Kendall, Carlton and Yates. He said the county is fortunate to have the lake and canal. The LWRPs should help the communities to better utilize the lake and canal.

“I’m really interested in anything having to do with water,” DeRoller said.

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