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LOCKPORT – The committee overseeing the restoration of the Flight of Five, Lockport’s 19th century Erie Canal locks, has chosen July 5, a Saturday, as the tentative date for a grand opening celebration.

The Lockport Locks Heritage District Committee chose the date Tuesday to coincide with the Independence Day weekend and the first Saturday farmers’ market of the season on adjacent Canal Street.

By then, the lock gates will be installed, chairman David R. Kinyon said, although committee member Pete Welsby said the construction contract calls for a mid-July date for the locks to be fully functional. Last month, the committee said the tentative date for opening the locks would be Aug. 1.

The gates are to be fabricated next Wednesday, and the committee and other Lockport officials are planning to mark the occasion with a gathering that day at Hohl Industrial Services in the Town of Tonawanda, the contractor on the $1.74 million project.

A crew from Hohl has been working all winter on dredging sediment out of two of the five stairstep locks, restoring the wood floors used in the locks when the canal opened in 1825. Masonry restoration, installation of arched bridges, new lighting and new wooden lock gates also were part of the contract.

A railing of much later vintage was taken out, and lead paint on the railing is being removed off-site by Niagara Coating, according to Welsby, the committee member in closest contact with the construction company.

The Flight of Five went out of use by boats after the current two large steel locks were installed in 1914. Since then, the Flight of Five has been used only as a spillway.

It had been hoped that the city would have a replica canal packet boat to show how the locks moved boats up and down, but that won’t happen for a couple of years, as funding is not in place for the 65-foot-long, 12-foot-wide craft designed by Buffalo Maritime Center.

R. Charles Bell, the city’s director of planning and development, is to make a pitch for $150,000 in Niagara River Greenway funds for the boat next week. That’s half of the estimated cost.

Kinyon said Bell will make a presentation to a Niagara County Legislature committee, seeking its endorsement. If the panel and the full Legislature go along, the project will go before the Host Communities Standing Committee, which controls Greenway purse strings in Niagara County.

With the opening coming up, the committee decided to cancel a community forum on the Flight of Five that was to have been held April 29.

According to Kinyon, committee member Becky Burns suggested concentrating energies on a grand opening celebration and on completion of interpretive signage for the locks.

The committee is shortly to be converted into the Lockport Locks Heritage District Corp., a subsidiary of the city’s development agency, the Greater Lockport Development Corp.

The Locks Committee is to become the board of directors of the new corporation, augmented by Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey and by Heather Peck of Lockport Main Street Inc., who also serves on the GLDC board. However, approval of bylaws is not yet complete, and the 10-person slate of locks directors must be divided into those serving one-,two- and three-year terms, so some of the board potentially could turn over each year.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com