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LOCKPORT – The operations and maintenance agreement for the restored 19th century Erie Canal locks is being crafted in such a way that it will permit the city to borrow money for the first stage of the construction project.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said last week that the city needs to come up with a $360,000 match for $2.2 million in federal money earmarked for the restoration of two of the five locks in the “Flight of Five.”

Lockport’s Grigg-Lewis Foundation has given $173,313 for the Flight of Five project.

The city had hoped for new foundation or governmental support for the work to return the locks to working condition as a tourist attraction. But Tucker said he concluded, “Nobody’s going to give us money unless the city steps up.”

The Flight of Five is numbered 67 through 71 on the state’s old lock numbering system. Bidding is expected soon for the reconstruction of Locks 69 and 70 – the middle lock and the second lock from the top of the five stairstep locks. The city is expected to award a contract in June, with work slated for next winter.

It would cost $8 million to $10 million to restore all five locks, and the city simply doesn’t have the money.

But it did receive more than $3 million in federal aid more than a decade ago, and it has been drawing that down as costs are incurred. Most of those costs are engineering and architectural studies, plans and drawings by Bergmann Associates.

In order to release the remaining $2.2 million for construction, the city is required to have $360,000 in matching funds.

“It would be foolish of us to lose that money. We can’t lose that $2.2 million,” Tucker said.

In order to clear the way for the bond issue, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano has inserted a couple of lines in the draft of the operating agreement with the state Canal Corp., which owns the locks.

The language points out that the Flight of Five lies “in the heart of downtown Lockport, adjacent to City Hall, Main Street and Canal Street Gazebo Park.”

Ottaviano said that language “establishes a nexus” between the locks and public places, thus legalizing Fight of Five borrowing as a benefit to public places.

The Flight, used as a spillway for nearly 100 years, since the two current steel locks were installed, was built out of wood and opened with the canal in 1825. The wood was replaced with limestone later, and the operating agreement says 1842 conditions are the ones the project is aiming for.

The agreement commits the city to paying all costs connected to the Flight restoration project and its eventual operation and maintenance, including that of a replica canal boat which is supposed to be used to show how the locks worked. The city also agreed that the restoration and its operation will not be permitted to get in the way of current canal operations.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com