S everal days after Tropical Storm Irene moved through the area, its effects were still being felt in Whitehall last week and over the weekend, but not by high water and downed trees, but scattered debris that found its way into local water ways causing concern for local business owners.
The storm dropped upwards of several inches of rain causing local rivers to crest their banks and flood low lying areas throughout the area. As flood waters advanced, all sorts of debris was swept downstream and later deposited into the canal.
The debris resulted in the closure of the Champlain Canal to boat traffic along its entire route until crews could clear the waterway of the worse obstructions.
The canal was closed for more than a week before opening to all vessels on Monday morning.
However, some of their methods of clearing the debris came under fire in Whitehall.
Between 4 and 5 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, the Canal Corp. used a barge to clear debris that had collected in front of Lock 12.
Among that debris were several dozen large round hay bales that were pushed through the lock and left to float freely in the Whitehall Harbor on Lake Champlain, an action that did not sit well with Lock 12 Marina owner Ray Faville.
“It’s a navigational hazard,” Faville said.
He expressed concern that the bales could cause damage to docks and boats in the area.
“It’s a mess. There are bales around boats and docks,” said Faville, who counted about 40 bales that were released into the lake.
The bales were wrapped in plastic and released with other garbage that at best is unsightly and at worst could become lodged in the props of boats or harm wildlife.
Faville said he spoke with officials at the New York State Canal Corp. early last week who said they were unable to send out boats to pick up the debris because of the bales excessive weight.
“These hay bales, when saturated with water, become extremely difficult to move,” New York State Canal Corp. public information officer, R.W. Groneman said.
He said they were forced to release the debris because of concerns that it could cause additional flooding in the canal and damage the lock.
“As you can imagine, an extraordinary amount of debris from waterways throughout the watershed washed in the canal and then the lake due to the historic flooding of the entire region.”
He said the agency was assessing the damage and cleaning it up, but their authority is limited to the canal, and since the debris ended up in the lake it was no longer the canal corps responsibility, even though it passed through the canal.
“They aren’t our hay bales,” Groneman said. “There’s lots of stuff up there, but it’s not ours.”
He said the responsibility to remove the bales fell on whatever agency oversees Lake Champlain and said the Canal Corp could make themselves available for assistance.
But less than four days later, the Canal Corp. had a change of heart and crews could be seen retrieving much of the debris Friday, leaving many to wonder why they didn’t remove the debris when it was in lock instead of waiting for it to be scattered throughout the harbor.
The flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene caused substantial problems throughout New York’s canal system.
Besides forcing the closure of the Champlain Canal, the storm also caused portions of the Erie Canal from Frankfort to Waterford to close as well. That portion of the canal remained closed as of Tuesday morning.
On the Champlain Canal, officials were still dealing with a mechanical problem at Lock 3 in Mechanicville. The Waterford Visitor Center and the Federal Lock in Troy also remained closed.