Like other members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet, state Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton is traveling New York, spreading the word about Cuomo’s budget to local communities.
He’s also got plenty of good news about the future of the canal system, including the 62-mile Champlain Canal.
One of his main points during a telephone interview Monday was the news that not only was pleasure boating traffic up on the canal system last year, the amount of freight moved on the canal was more than 40,000 tons. “That was the best freight year we have had in a very, very long time,” he said.
Stratton, the former mayor of Schenectady, said barge traffic on the Champlain Canal is improving for several reasons.
“We have a lot of grain moving to ethanol plants in Canada, and GE is transporting some of its larger pieces by barge,” he said. “As gas prices go up, and people realize that it’s not hard to move products on the canal, I think you will see an upswing in traffic.”
Stratton said he supports a plan by Greenwich officials to obtain funding for a barge port in their town and village.
“I have reached out to them, and I hope we can work together on that,” he said.
There is a similar plan in Lyons, in the western part of the state, which could increase barge traffic on the canal’s Oswego section, he said.
Whitehall a key
Stratton also said he has spoken to Whitehall officials, now that the village offices are out of the Canal Corp.’s visitors center, and said he is excited about new possibilities there at the canal’s northern end — Lock 12, which leads to Lake Champlain.
“That is a very important spot for us. It’s the gateway to Lake Champlain and Canada,” he said. “We’d love to have a full-service boating center at the visitors center with laundry, showers, tourist information and anything else boaters need,” he said, adding that he is pleased that a single owner has purchased the two Whitehall marinas and will have them open for the spring. “There are some really good things going on in Whitehall,” he said.
More funding coming
One of the places where Stratton’s budget discussion merged with the canal was when he was talking about the Governor’s Regional Economic Development Council’s grant program, which has helped communities in the region and has a number of canal-related projects.
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In the past, that funding included plans to build a 5-mile segment of multi-use trail from Lock 9 in Kingsbury to Clay Hill Road in Fort Ann.
Stratton said he is also working with a nonprofit group to try to extend that trail north toward Whitehall.
Last year’s grant distribution included more than $93,000 to Fort Edward to help rebuild a former canal maintenance barn into a farmers market, which will open in 2014 and showcase local goods.
Another 2012 grant will provide docks and other facilities that will allow for waterfront access to the Saratoga National Historical Park. This will allow direct access from the canal to the battlefield.
Two other projects are planned farther south. One will put in several miles of trail along the canal in Halfmoon, and the other, in Waterford, will make repairs at the Canal Harbor Welcome Center.
Stratton was quick to point out there will be a third round of regional grants, totaling $220 million, in the upcoming budget.
“We know the Canal Corp. will get another round,” Stratton said. “There’s competition for that money, but there are a lot of things we need to do.”
During a meeting Thursday at the visitors center at Rogers Island in Fort Edward, Stratton spoke for 45 minutes, then took questions for the remainder of the two-hour session
He discussed plenty of background about why local government officials should support the Cuomo budget and made some connections between local officials and other state representatives. He said he was glad he was assigned Washington County.
“It was great to be in Fort Edward, because that’s a real canal community,” said Stratton, who spoke to 53 local politicians and residents at the visitors center. “The canal is a great economic corridor. It’s an important economic engine.”
Stratton said he has done seven of the meetings before and will continue to do them, talking about mandate relief, the minimum wage, education funding and economic development. Those are topics everywhere.
“It’s important for people to know how the governor’s budget impacts them,” Stratton said.