ALBION, NY – A section of Albion-Eagle Harbor Road remains closed while crews work to fix a sinkhole along the Erie Canal just west of this Orleans County village.
As well, a five mile section of the canal remains closed to boat traffic between Albion and Holley.
Engineers are still trying to determine exactly what caused water to start seeping through a bank of the canal beneath the adjacent road, causing it to collapse.
We’re told that on Monday night a passing motorist felt a large bump in the road, and then turned around to see that the pavement had begun to falter. Police closed the road, and crews got on things quickly enough so that while the sink hole began widening (at one point reaching approximately 30 feet in diameter and a depth of 16 feet) it never really posed a threat to any nearby properties. There are no homes in the immediate area and no one was injured.
The Acting Director of the Canal Design Bureau for the NYS Thruway Authority, which oversees the waterway, arrived on the scene early Tuesday morning from Albany.
“Our first steps involved keeping the embankment intact and strengthening it so that nothing more serious happens,” said Joe Savoie, who says he got a phone call alerting him to the situation as he was about to retire for bed Monday night.
In order to keep the breach from becoming worse, a set of gates located just a few hundred feet west of the affected area were closed to prevent water from continuing to flow into the area. Another set of gates were closed five miles to the east, near the village of Holley.
This helped to begin lowering the water level of the canal, allowing engineers to get a better look at the bank and assess what type of repairs might be needed.
However, it also resulted in the canal’s closure between those two communities, and an order for any boaters who had craft in the canal between Albion and Holley to get their boats out of the water as quickly as possible.
“They came up and told us they had a leak in the canal,” recalled Paul Wolf of Lake Milton, Ohio, who was cruising the canal with his wife and another Ohio couple which was operating a separate boat. “We thought they were kidding but they came back 15 minutes later and said they were serious and we had to get out boat out.”
The problem for the Wolfs and their traveling companions was that their boat trailers and the trucks they used to haul them were 25 miles away in Lockport, where they’d left them when they began their journey the day before.
Wolf praised a Thruway Authority employee who drove them back to Lockport to retrieve their vehicles, allowing them to return just in time to be able to claim their vessels from the canal before the water level got low enough to have rendered the nearest boat launch useless.
“If it had gone down just another eight inches or so we wouldn’t have been able to get them out…we were that close,” Wolf said.
Savoie told Two On Your Side leaks occur more often than one might think along these banks, most of which were built when the canal was widened and reconstructed a century ago.
“In the year I’ve been on this job I have discovered that this is pretty common…and this is the third occasion like this in the past year where I’ve been summoned to come out and supervise the repair of leaking embankments,” he said. “But it’s an old system, and it takes time and manpower in order to keep it functioning properly.”
When asked if the Thruway Authority has provided enough resources to maintain its 600 mile canal system, Savoie insisted that it did.
By Tuesday afternoon repair crews had stemmed the seepage and Savoie was not prepared to say if a road crew, which had previoulsty been doing repairs where the incident occurred, might have done anything to compromise the canal bank.
He estimated the section of the canal between Albion and Holley would likely remain closed for at least a day or two more, but beyond that would not speculate.