Electric services along wall: Debate balances costs vs. attracting boaters

B oaters passing through Whitehall this summer may be able to access electrical services along the mooring wall behind the New York State Canal Corp. Visitors Center.

Supervisor George Armstrong expressed his desire to see power along the wall restored during a meeting with Canal Corp. officials on Monday morning.

“I’m in favor, and always have been in favor, of providing electricity along the wall,” Armstrong said.

Of the communities along the statewide canal system that have access to electrical hook-ups, officials with the Canal Corp. said Whitehall is the only one that doesn’t provide electricity — free or charged — to boaters.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

When the visitors’ center was constructed in 2000, pedestals were installed along the wall behind the facility and boaters could use them to access free electricity.

Those pedestals became a source of debate, however, when local business owners claimed they were hurting their businesses.

Ray Faville, who owned Lock 12 Marina, and Robert Elmy, who owns Champlain Harbor Marina, argued for years that the services hurt their businesses and put them in direct competition with the town for a service they couldn’t afford to provide for free.

Faville has since gone out of business and lost the property as part of a bankruptcy reorganization plan. Champlain Harbor Marina has been on the market for several years.

To appease the struggling businesses, the town board voted in October 2010 to stop providing electricity behind the wall and the services were shut off before the boating season began last spring.

 

Not boat-friendly

But Armstrong believes shutting the power off may have actually hurt commerce.

“I think we took a bit of a black eye when it happened,” Armstrong said. “I don’t want Whitehall to be known as unfriendly to boaters.”

Last summer was a particularly dismal year along the canal, at least in Whitehall. Traffic along the canal was down and while the economy and early season flooding certainly could be blamed for the decline; some officials have wondered if some of it could be attributed to a perception that Whitehall doesn’t cater to boaters.

In the past, the town covered the cost of electricity at a cost of approximately $800 to $900 per year. But not all the communities along the canal system provide amenities for free.

According to John Callaghan, deputy director of the Canal Corp., some communities ask boaters to pay a nominal fee.

“It helps them recoup the small costs it takes to provide these services,” he said.

Armstrong said he would like to see the power restored on some sort of metered system. “I think people would pay for it but there’s just not a good way to do it,” he said.

Callaghan said some communities have locked their power pedestals and charged boaters a small fee to have them unlocked. “We feel the value to the community outweighs the cost of electrical services.”

He said the system has worked very well across the state but the agency prefers to defer to the judgment of the towns and the villages regarding electrical services.

The town board may discuss the matter in further detail at their next meeting on May 9.

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