ALBION, N.Y. (WIVB) - A large section of the Erie Canal has been shut down in Orleans County. And Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo was in Albion to survey the situation.
Cuomo pledged a 24/7, round-the-clock work schedule to fix the canal and thanked the state worker who figuratively "stuck his finger in the dike" and prevented a potential disaster.
Canal Corporation inspector Rick Seaman said, "At this time we only had a major leak, and we were going to do everything we could to stabilize the bank to stop from having a catastrophic failure."
Seaman was doing his routine nightly check of the Erie Canal along Albion-Eagle Harbor Road when he suddenly heard and saw a potential disaster. Water was gushing from the canal into a culvert under the road. Seaman called in backup.
"If somebody hadn't have been here, we would have had a catastrophic failure. I'm pretty confident of that. Because a delay in knowing this had happened, just 20 minutes to a half hour would have made all the difference in the world," Seaman said.
When the breach occurred, water gushed from the canal into an adjacent creek, which is actually channeled under the canal. Work crews moved quickly to dam the creek, and prevent the water from doing a lot more damage downstream.
Two state prisons, the Albion Correction Facility and the Orleans Correctional Facility, are a short distance away and downstream.
Sen. George Maziarz said, "You can see the trajectory, of course, is downward. If that canal wall had collapsed, all that water could have drained in and flooded very rapidly those two state prisons, which would have created a whole lot more problems."
Sen. Maziarz said Governor Cuomo is pledging all the resources necessary to make get the repair operation going 24 hours a day until the canal wall and the road are fixed. Maziarz told News 4 a 25-mile section of the canal is closed and it is hurting the boaters and the farmers who still use the canal.
"Particularly with the drought conditions that we have had, our farmers siphon off the canal. They use the canal as a source of water, especially this time of the year," he explained.
A giant sinkhole caused the road to collapse adjacent to the canal and state officials are still not sure if the canal breach caused the sinkhole or the sinkhole caused the breach.
State officials have not set a timetable for re-opening the 25-mile section of the canal.
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