A question has emerged whether the Flight of Five locks can be fully restored.
According to Mayor Michael Tucker, restoration of all five non-functioning locks, 67 through 71, may not be possible because of technical considerations. A modern bridge spanning Lock 71, needed for moving equipment across the locks area, is in the way and the city may have to settle for seeing 67 through 70 restored instead.
Flight restoration depends heavily on the blessings of the state Canal Corp., which uses the flight area to accommodate operation of modern locks 34 and 35 south of it. The question concerns whether the modern bridge at 71 can be moved or its function substituted elsewhere. The answer still isn’t known, according to Tucker.
“My vision is for (restoring) the whole thing. If it’s money, it’s just money. If it’s an engineering/technical issue, that’s something different,” he said.
The city has amassed state and federal grants totaling more than $3 million to start Flight renovation, a vision for making the locks work again like they did in the 1860s. The project’s intent is to preserve an American engineering marvel and, in doing so, make Lockport a tourist destination.
The full price of preservation will depend on the results of a hydraulic study due this month showing what, technically, will be required to restore the locks while satisfying Canal Corporation needs. In addition to the bridge issue, planners need a way to replace the Flight’s current, critical function as a spillway.
Informal estimates for full restoration hover around $10 million. Private grants will be sought in addition to public funding, Tucker said.
While the hydraulic study is ongoing, the citizen-led Flight of Five Renovation committee has been working on other project aspects. Members met last week with representatives of Boston Productions, the company that built the displays at Erie Canal Discovery Center, to talk over ideas for a Flight of Five interpretive center.
While no decisions were made, Tucker said an observation by an “outsider” buoyed an effort that, so far, seems like it’s been long on talk and short on action.
“Someone from the production company said that, engineering-wise/technical-wise, the Flight of Five is a feat like the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s what we’ve got on our hands here,” he said. “It’s been quiet but things are starting to move quickly now. This is going to be huge for Lockport.”
The canal is closed to boat traffic for the season as of today, so a crew from the Historic American Building Survey will return to the city next week to pick up where they left off documenting the Flight area this past spring. The area is being measured and mapped to help the city build the case for having the Flight designated a national landmark.
“We’re all but certain to get the designation. We just have to make sure everything (in the application) is right on target,” Tucker said.
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