Historic canal tugboat could be grounded for static display

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 20 June 2018 at 3:20 pm

Other vessels slated to sunk in Long Island reef

File photos by Tom Rivers: The tugboat Urger was in Orleans County in October 2015 as part of its educational outreach, when elementary school children visit the boat from 1901. This photo shows the Urger in Albion.

A historic tugboat that has traveled the canal in recent years as an ambassador is proposed to be grounded and become part of a static display in Montgomery County.

In addition, the New York Power Authority, the current caretaker of the canal, wants to remove 29 other vessels and sink them in Long Island to make an artificial reef that state officials say would be interesting for scuba divers.

The Preservation League of New York State is opposing the removal of the Urger and the sinking of the 29 other vessels. The State Historic Preservation Office has approved sinking seven of the vessels, according to the Preservation League.

“As we embark on a multi-year celebration of the construction of the Erie Canal, including the 2018 centennial celebration of the Barge Canal, it seems a remarkably poor time to be removing historic resources from the National Historic Landmark NYS canal system,” the Preservation League stated on Tuesday.

The vessels have been decommissioned and include canal tugs, derrick boats, scows and tender tugs, according to The Times Union in Albany.

The Canal Corp. and Power Authority want to send the Urger to a dry-land exhibit at a visitor center off the Thruway near Canajoharie. The plan would not keep the Urger as an operable tugboat.

The Urger travelled up and down the canal most years and was particularly popular with fourth-graders who learn about the state history and the canal.

The Urger was in Albion on Oct. 5, 2015 by the Main Street lift bridge.

The Urger was built in 1901 and originally was a Great Lakes tugboat and was a commercial shipping vessel in Michigan for its first two decades. It joined the canal system in 1922 and moved state dredges, Derek boats, barges and scows, primarily on the Champlain Canal and the eastern portion of the Erie Canal from 1922 through 1986, when she was retired from service.

In 1991, the Urger got new life as a “Teaching Tug.” It was visiting canal communities from early May until late October, educating children and adults about the canal system, which opened in 1825.

The Urger is 75 feet long and weighs 83.7 tons. The engine weighs 19.5 tons. It is a 1944 Atlas Imperial engine that was surplus from World War II. It replaced a steam engine.

John Bonafide, director of Technical Preservation Services Bureau for the State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, sent a June 12 letter to John Kahabka, vice president of Environment Health and Safety for the New York Power Authority

Bonafide noted the Urger in 2001 was listed on the state and national registers of historic places “as a resource of state-wide significance.” The Urger was nominated “for her long and historic association with the development of New York State’s twentieth century canals.”

Fourth-graders from School No. 2 in Rochester visit the Urger in Holley on Oct. 7, 2015.

The tugboat now serves as the canal’s ceremonial flagship, serving as a platform and focal point for educational programs, historic interpretation and celebrations in canal side communities throughout upstate NY, Bonafide said.

“This historic vessel is one of New York State’s preeminent and unique historic resources,” he wrote in his letter. “As such, the proposal to remove the historic vessel from its water setting and create a land-based static exhibit with her, albeit it close to the canal, will nevertheless have an unquestionable and profound direct adverse impact on the National Register listed tugboat.”

The tugboat is also connected to the Erie Canal, which is a National Historic Landmark. “The proposed removal and display may also adversely affect the significant resource as well,” he said.

State Parks wants to see a current structural or engineering conditions survey of Urger “to better understand the rationale for removing the historic resource form operational use on the canal,” Bonafide wrote to Kahabka.

State Parks also wants to see an annual maintenance budget showing expenses to maintain the Urger as an operating vessel along the canal, the estimated cost for creating a static exhibit and the budget for maintaining a static exhibit.

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