Approximately 125 miles of the 524-mile long Erie Canal runs through built earthen embankments. Most of these embankments are located between Lockport in Niagara County and Lyons in Wayne County. Local communities stopped the Canal Corporation (NYSCC) as it was clearcutting these embankments in 2017, successfully arguing in court that they had illegally skipped the environmental review process required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act, SEQR (“seeker”). Unfortunately, this was not before thousands of trees were lost between Medina and Brockport.
In response to this successful challenge, the NYSCC created the Earthen Embankment Integrity Program (EEIP). The major focus of the EEIP is an embankment inspection and maintenance guidebook that sets forth "protocols for safety, inspection, maintenance, community outreach and related environmental concerns, including a procedural approach as to where trees will be removed.”
To avoid running afoul of SEQR again, NYSCC is subjecting this manual to environmental review – a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS). This is not an unusual approach – often when a community produces a new comprehensive plan for instance, they produce a GEIS to help identify environmental issues and allow for public comment. You can follow this link for all of the Environmental Impact Statement documentation. But, be warned, it is several hundred pages!
Bottom line: the image below, from the front cover of the maintenance manual, indicates what they want the embankments to look like.
Why are we challenging the clearcut?
The trees lining the Erie Canal towpath have a variety of values. These include:
Providing shade, a windbreak, and scenic beauty for Canal users. (They know this: this image is from their own website)
Providing high quality habitat for wildlife, especially thanks to proximity to a water source.
Providing privacy to homeowners and properties bordering the Canal path.
In addition, replacing trees with grass will have a negative effect on the carbon footprint of the Canal, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that can be absorbed and necessitating regular mowing of 100+ new acres of lawn.
The CC is using assumptions, not evidence, to insist that these 10,000+ trees over 125 acres must come down to ensure safety on the Erie Canal -- a structure that has no historical record of breaches caused by trees. In fact, the historical record indicates that prior Erie Canal embankment collapses have been associated with physical disruption of the embankments by digging and tunneling near by or the failure of culverts that deliver smaller waterways under the canal.
We believe that trees belong on the towpath, and the bulk of the science supports this position. We continue to ask for a plan that addresses the concerns of the CC AND protects and restores the values of this unique, historic wooded trailway.
Where is this going to happen?
Note: the new embankment management manual does not set out specific locations like the maps linked here, but instead applies to "all of the raised embankments." However, the maps from the plan designed in 2017 tell us what they would have cut before we forced the environmental review. When the environmental review is completed this fall (2021), we expect they will go back to the sites they identified to cut, perhaps as early as the winter of 2022-2023. (See the screenshots below of the likely project sites in Rochester, Brighton, Pittsford, and Perinton).
Perinton: just south of W. Church Street/31F in Fairport Village
Perinton: Southwest of Fairport Village, opposite the Oxbow (at lower right)
Perinton: Continuing southwest of Fairport, Powerline corridor at center
Perinton: continuing Southwest, near Ayrault Rd bridge
Perinton: continuing southwest, Rt31 crossing
Pittsford: Great Embankment area
Brighton: Near Clinton ave (Meridian Center Park at right side, tree removal on side opposite tow path)
Greece: east of Greece Canal Park. Long Pond Rd is to right