The NYS Canal Corporation, under the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and in partnership with NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, plans to sink Erie Canal vessels in Long Island Sound to create an artificial diving reef.
The historic tugboat Reliable is already at the bottom of Long Island Sound. NYPA also has plans to beach the Tug Urger, considered the flagship of the Erie Canal by the NYS Canal Corporation and beloved as the “teaching tug” for its role in educating thousands of schoolchildren about the history of the Canals and the role construction of the Erie Canal played in making New York the Empire State.
The Urger used to travel up and down the Canal for field trips. Now NYS will pull it from the water and become a dry-land exhibit at a NYS Visitor Center off the Thruway in Montgomery County. The NYPA plans do not require the Urger to remain operable.
13 vessels have been approved for sinking by SHPO. Three of those are National Register-eligible.
The Preservation League has submitted a FOIL request to the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) for all documents relating to this project – Section 14.09 and otherwise. We await a response from NYS OPRHP for the FOIL request and note that the State Historic Preservation Office issued a letter to NYPA stating that their plans for the Urger will “have an unquestionable and profound direct Adverse Impact on the National Register listed tugboat” (see link to letter below). The League has also contacted the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation to determine whether there are any Section 106 triggers for federal review.
Interest in the Erie Canal as an engine for recreation and tourism is on the upswing, and the Preservation League has been working for years to help communities in the Erie Canal Corridor address their unique preservation challenges. Through more than $600,000 in grants, technical services, workshops, awards and our Industrial Heritage Reuse Project, the Preservation League has helped individuals, not-for-profits and municipalities revitalize their canalside assets. Loans from our Endangered Properties Intervention Program (EPIP) have added more than $300,000 in support.
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.
Follow our blog and Facebook page for updates on this issue. Thanks to Will Van Dorp and the Tugster blog for the final photos of the Reliable before she was scuttled.