Eagle-eyed readers of the New York Times (that would be us) alerted local state officials in April of New York State Canal Corporation plans to render as surplus "30 decommissioned barges, tugboats and tenders from the Erie Canal and upstate waterways," and have them sunk as part of a series of artificial reefs. Gulp. At the same time the state and localities up and down the canal—not the least of which, Buffalo—are trying to celebrate the canal and their connections to it. During the 200th anniversary period of its construction and opening (1817-1825). The Campaign suggested that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, a state agency, acquire a tug and some barges before the the other state agency literally deep-sixes them.
The New York State Preservation League also agrees that the flotilla be saved, and is mounting a campaign to keep the historic tug Urger afloat, and not sunk or reduced to an out-of-water mounted artifact (perhaps thinking about the forlorn vessel marooned in a traffic island in Lockport).
There can be no more appropriate place for a tug boat than Buffalo's own Commercial Slip—perhaps the most iconic photograph of the slip shows tugs rafted together under the Water Street Bridge with Dug's Dive behind them and the canal District rising in the background. According to the Canal Corp., the Urger, constructed in 1901 as a fishing boat, is one of the oldest working vessels still afloat in the United States. (Buffalo's fireboat, the Edward Cotter, is one year older).
As for the barges, the only limit is our imagination. The Campaign has suggested that several of these be rafted together in the Buffalo River or the Outer Harbor. One would be filled with sand (which is a common commodity to be seen on ships and barges along the Great Lakes and our inland waterways), the other with water. Voila, a floating beach and pool.
Don't worry, cities all over the world have done it before, or are planning similar floating pools. New York has had one since 2007. Designed to move from neighborhood to neighborhood, it has been docked at Baretto Point Part in the Bronx for the last nine seasons.There is one in Baltimore harbor, Boston is planning one, there are more than you can shake a stick at in Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Hungary. There are probably more that we are not aware of. And, don't worry about advocating for such things: the Times devoted the entirety of its August 5th editorial page to proposing a beach for Manhattan, floating at that.
As the Times says, "Plenty of things are unimaginable, until you build them."
What can a citizen do to save the vessels? The first thing is to write to Governor Cuomo, who has the ultimate authority. Tell him A tug deserves to float free and not be a dead display somewhere, and that Buffalo can make good use of an entire flotilla of barges and tenders. Then, let everyone else know what you think: take a moment to write an email to the Buffalo News.
Finally, you can join The Campaign for Greater Buffalo or send a donation to help us continue our work and to make your voice heard.
• The Buffalo News Letter-to Editor prefers email: [email protected]
• Governor: Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo, NYS State Capitol Building • Albany, NY 12224
• The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, 14 Lafayette Square, Suite 1425 • Buffalo, NY 14203 • 716-854-3749• [email protected]