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State seeks more public input on Erie Canal tree-cutting plan 

click to enlarge The New York State Canal Corp. has extended the public comment period for its controversial project of removing trees from the banks of the Erie Canal.

FILE PHOTO

The New York State Canal Corp. has extended the public comment period for its controversial project of removing trees from the banks of the Erie Canal.

The New York State Canal Corporation has extended the public comment period for its controversial project of removing vegetation from the banks of the Erie Canal into October.

In the meantime, the agency will host public informational sessions in September on the project, known as the Earthen Embankment Integrity Program.

Two meetings are scheduled to be in person in Fairport and the Town of Perinton Community Center on Turk Hill Road from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, and Tuesday, Sept. 21. The agency announced it will also host two virtual sessions at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30.

The Earthen Embankment Integrity Program drew intense opposition in 2017 when the Canal Corp. began removing trees from long stretches of the canal banks between the Villages of Medina and Fairport.

The opposition culminated in a lawsuit brought by some municipalities and residents, and the court ordered the Canal Corp. to perform an environmental review of the program.

The deadline for public comment on the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement was to be in early August. It was later moved to early September, and, subsequently, to Oct. 15.

“The Canal Corporation is committed to a public engagement process that provides meaningful ways for members of the community to contribute to the final design of the Earthen Embankment Integrity Program," Canal Corp. Director Brian Stratton said in a statement announcing the meetings.

Despite opposition, the Canal Corp. has not abandoned the concept of the program, arguing that large tree roots and other shrubbery are a threat to the structural integrity of the embankments. Officials for the agency said they are developing a guidebook to establish policies and procedures for management about 125 miles of earthen embankments along the canal system, many of which are in Western New York and the Rochester area.

Elizabeth Agte is a key figure in the grassroots effort to block widespread clear-cutting of vegetation along the canal and she is co-founder of Stop the Canal Clear Cut. She said she was pleased the deadline for comment has been moved, but still wants more detail from the Canal Corp. on what will happen.

“The involvement we want is for people to be at the decision making table who are stakeholders and business people in these canal towns who are economically impacted. And foremost, we want actual scientists there that can speak to the value of clear cutting or not clear cutting,” Agte said.

To register to participate in the virtual informational session, email public.info@canals.ny.gov.
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