Extend the Erie Canal season until late Oct 2020 & dry dock approval for Colonial Belle
Extend the Erie Canal season until late Oct 2020 & dry dock approval for Colonial Belle
Colonial Belle submitted permit applications to the NY State Canal Corporation for annual Post Season operation for an extra 4 days past the Wednesday, October 14, 2020 public Erie Canal published closure date in order to operate for some greatly needed private charters in mid-October. Another application was made to transit the vessel to winter storage shortly after October 18, 2020 (after allowing a few days for staff to remove items from the boat to be stored off of the vessel for winter). A third critical application for winter storage of the Colonial Belle vessel in the NYS dry dock in Lyons, NY was also submitted. The other remaining tour boats on the Erie Canal, Corn Hill Navigation’s vessel Sam Patch along with the 3 vessels owned/operated by Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises also submitted applications to operate their vessels for a few much needed additional days to offer private charters/group tours that have already been booked. (The vessels owned by Erie Canal Cruises, Inc. in Herkimer, NY did not operate this season due to the extreme delays in that section of the canal not opening until mid-August 2020 making operation for that company too short of a time period to operate, compounded by the restrictions for reduced maximum capacities onboard vessels for social distancing. There are only 4 passenger vessel companies still operating on the Erie Canal including Erie Canal Cruises, Inc. that could not operate at all for the 2020 season.) ALL of these permit applications were denied on September 9 & 10, 2020 allowing very short notice to the passenger vessel companies who have already booked groups and private charters. Passenger vessel companies made these bookings based on previously issued post-navigation season commercial permits for a short period of time each season and conversations at Canal based organization meetings with NYS Canal Corporation staff. Passenger vessel companies require planning time for off season winter transit and storage. For the entire history of operations on the Erie Canal, all of these commercial vessels have been permitted to operate for a short time after the public canal closure date via a paid permit to the NYS Canal Corporation and have been given accommodations to transit the vessels to winter storage shortly after the published Canal closure date have been made annually. The Colonial Belle (with the exception of 2018) has been stored in the Lyons dry dock for over 25 years as it is the largest passenger vessel on the Erie Canal. There is a lack of dry dock or private marine facilities that can accommodate a vessel of that size out of the water within a reasonable distance of its base port in Fairport, NY especially considering the current US/Canadian closure.
All of the operators of these few remaining passenger vessels expressed concerns of the Canal‘s delayed opening on July 4, 2020 instead of the originally planned opening date of May 15, 2020 due to pre-season construction and preparations being shut down in mid-March 2020. The effects on these passenger vessel businesses that already operate on a seasonal basis along with the negative impacts on all of the businesses, towns and villages along the Erie Canal that survive based on the canal system are large. The Erie Canal is an artery essential to the economy of the areas along its banks and beyond. Members of Canal NY and other organizations requested that the Canal be open until the end of October 2020 in order to regain a few more weeks of the 2020 season that were lost from mid-May until July 4 . This request was also denied. Extending the 2020 canal season for a few weeks would be a critical step to helping the economy during this unprecedented time during a worldwide pandemic when every day and every dollar counts.
Historically, the Erie Canal season began in early May and continued through November 15th each year until a few years ago when NYPA (NY Power Authority) took over the NYS Canal Corporation and shortened the seasons to mid-May through mid-October to allow more time in better weather for maintenance and repair projects throughout the system. Unfortunately, the shortened canal season costs canal-based businesses, and all businesses in the region, critical income during the favorable weather in the area, especially in 2020 with the economy suffering incredibly. Passenger vessels were considered Phase One of the NYS re-opening plan however delays to the opening of the 2020 Erie Canal Season prevented operation of passenger vessels until part way into Phase 4. Pre-season canal maintenance continued to be put on PAUSE while other similar construction projects such as those by the DOT (Department of Transportation) on the Fairport and Spencerport Lift Bridges over the Canal and the Erie Canal Heritage Trail improvement projects continued during the PAUSE and were considered essential while the maintenance projects to re-open the canal system were not.
80% of all residents of NY State live within 20 miles of the Erie Canal and although the only main current commercial use of the canal system is for passenger vessels, the amount of revenue brought in from the Canal System from tourism brings an excess of hundreds of millions of dollars to Upstate NY on a normal year (statistic from NYS Canal Corporation research) and the economic impact to Non-Canal based businesses as a result of being near the Canal brings in Billions of dollars to the region. According to Erie Canal National Heritage Society research, $1.3 Billion is generated annually from Canal related events and $5,162,677 was generated in a single year from tour operators, boat charters/rentals. The passenger vessels on the Erie Canal typically host field trips to local 4th graders as part of their education on NY State history and the Colonial Belle alone has educated over 75,000 school children since 1995 with hands on experience helping to create new generations of Canal enthusiasts. Typically, tourists visit from all over the world to enjoy our famous Erie Canal, New York’s iconic manmade waterway full of history dating back to 1817. This season more than ever, passenger vessels have hosted small groups and families from our local areas giving much needed safe options for activities “right in our own backyard” when travel restrictions are in place during the pandemic. Fall in Upstate NY is one of the most beautiful times of year, especially along the waterways, and continuing the season through October helps extend this limited opportunity and the revenue resulting from it.
We are writing to gain your support in encouraging NYPA/NYS Canal Corporation to:
1) Allow the Colonial Belle storage space in the State dry dock in Lyons, NY.
There are no other private dry dock or lift options within the US at any reasonable distance that can accommodate a vessel of that size. The Colonial Belle is 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and weighs 110 tons. In order to operate, the Colonial Belle is required to have a dry dock inspection by the US Coast Guard before the 2021 cruising season. The lack of dry dock space will put the company completely out of business.
2) Approve permits to the 5 operating passenger vessels on the Erie Canal to operate until Sunday, October 18, 2020 in order to offer the private charters and group tours booked through the reminder of that week after the public canal closure on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 through the weekend. Weekends are typically the busiest times for these businesses.
3) Allow the passenger vessels permits to transition the boats to winter storage locations shortly after October 18, 2020 to allow these vessels to operate as long as possible without using limited canal season time for transit.
Colonial Belle vessels have been stored for the winter in the NY State dry dock in Lyons, NY since 1990 prior to the 2018 season. In the winter of 2018-2019, the Colonial Belle had to be stored in the water in Newark, NY after the permit to store the vessel in the Lyons dry dock was rejected. Major damage was caused to the vessel and being in the water prevented necessary required pre-season painting & maintenance. The Colonial Belle is much too large to be lifted or dry docked out of the water anywhere locally other than the dry dock in Lyons, NY. We have contacted multiple private marinas with dry docks and/or lifts within a 4-day one way trip from Fairport, NY and none of these locations, including those suggested by NYS Canal Corporation staff, can accommodate the vessel based on its weight and width. The Colonial Belle requires a safe local winter storage location out of the water in order to continue providing the Erie Canal experiences to local people and tourists each year, especially now due to the US Coast Guard requirement for a dry dock inspection every 5 years due before the 2021 season.
The Colonial Belle is iconic to the Erie Canal and our local area bringing thousands of people directly onto the Canal each year to experience one of the most scenic sections of the Canal between Fairport and Pittsford. Many also experience going though one of our famous locks while aboard. Our Captains narrate our cruises providing passengers with some of the history, facts and amazing stories of the Erie Canal and our local area. Typically, our passengers are people from our local area, out of State and from all over the world who come to experience the famous Erie Canal. We provide seasonal jobs for local residents and use local catering and other services bringing further business and jobs to our community. Passengers that come for a cruise usually visit other local business in the area as well, bringing in additional local revenue to the local economy.
Colonial Belle has always carried special insurance for winter storage in the NY State dry dock in Lyons, NY removing the liability of the State. We have always paid a fee for winter storage in the dry dock (and in 2018-19 for winter storage on the wall in Newark, NY in the water). Colonial Belle is a commercial business, not a private vessel.
The NYS Reimagine the Erie Canal Campaign’s 3rd initiative “Find new ways to enhance recreation and tourism along the Erie Canal” along with other initiatives in that campaign are not being followed with these 2020 canal closure decisions.
The following are facts, statistics, and information regarding our history of our endless support of the Erie Canal and recent experiences:
- Family owned/operated Business established in 1989
- Current vessel “Colonial Belle” purchased & moved to Fairport in 1995 from San Francisco, CA - The Colonial Belle is the largest passenger vessel operating routinely on the Erie Canal
- This vessel was purchased in part because:
It could carry a large number of passengers giving more people the ability to experience the Canal at one time (US Coastguard certified for 149 passengers, 2020 maximum 70 passengers)
There was a safe nearby winter storage option in the dry dock in Lyons, NY.
Our Passengers: local, all over the US and from countries all over the world ride aboard yearly:
- School field trips each Spring in May/June – thousands of local school children
- Corporate & Private Company Charters
- Bus & other tour groups
- Special celebrations & events – Birthdays, Anniversaries, Rehearsal Dinners, etc.
- Local Colleges and Universities – MCC, Nazareth College, University of Rochester
- Local Radio Stations – many sold out private charters every year
- Groups, families & individuals visiting the area for local events and festivals
- Senior Living Community & Nursing Home Outings
- Summer Camp Field Trips for Children
- Local Fire Departments, EMTs – several private charters and large groups
- Local Banks, Credit Unions and Financial Advisors – multiple large groups and private charters
- Fundraisers – charters aboard providing local non-profit organizations a way to raise needed funds
- Local families bringing visiting out of town family/friends aboard
- Local individuals & families for daily cruises or specialty theme cruises
The Colonial Belle required a complete engine rebuild due to extensive damage from being stored in the water for the winter. The rebuild cost thousands of dollars and the boat was inoperable from mid-May until July 4, 2019 losing a great amount of business during the already short cruising season and prevented local tourism to other businesses in the area.
Media coverage for Colonial Belle constantly putting a spotlight on the Erie Canal & our local area:
- John Kucko Digital – multiple photos, videos & mentions of the Colonial Belle each season & prior o Countdown to Canal opening, opening & closing of our season, other posts & videos yearly
- Local news stations – interviews and stories
- Local Radio
- Local Print & Digital Media – articles and interviews published
- Photos and videos of the Colonial Belle are used to represent and promote the Erie Canal constantly
- Photos of Fairport Harbor on the Erie Canal including the Colonial Belle – displayed at local restaurants,
businesses & community centers as the vessel and the waterway are constantly viewed as a package
Colonial Belle uses local vendors, services, etc. providing more local business and jobs
- Local mechanics & service people, Bookkeeper, Accountant, etc.
- Local Residents employed as Office Staff, Captains & Crew
- Rohrbach & Genesee Beer and local Finger Lakes wines served aboard
Colonial Belle is a member of:
- Fairport Perinton Merchants Association
- Visit Rochester
- NYS Tour Boat Association
- Canal Society of NY State
- Canal NY
- Finger Lakes Tourism Association
Colonial Belle participates in local events and festivals to bring visitors directly onto the canal:
- The 1st NYS Canal Corporation Erie Armada in Macedon, NY in 2019
- Fairport Canal Days, Fairport Music Festival, Fairport Scarecrow Festival, etc.
Our 2020 cruising season will end in just a few short weeks. Please support us to continue the important experience that we provide for local individuals, groups, non-profit organizations, companies and tourists by providing us with a safe local winter storage location out of the water at the dry dock in Lyons, NY as we have for many years.
Please encourage NYPA and NY State to allow the NYS Canal Corporation to accommodate the operating passenger vessels on the Erie Canal a few more days to offer cruises to help bring in much needed income to the operating companies, and those nearby that benefit as well, along with accommodations to transit these vessels to winter storage after the currently published 2020 public canal closing date. This will ensure that we can continue bringing thousands of people onto the Erie Canal and contribute tourism dollars and local jobs to the region in the future.
Please contact the NY State Canal Corporation and the NYS Power Authority with a letter of support or a phone call as our place in the NY State dry dock Lyons, NY and post season permits and transit permits have not been granted at this time. This is a time sensitive issue due to the Erie Canal closing for the season in just a few short weeks on October 14, 2020.
Thank you for your consideration.
Captain Tammee Poinan Grimes, General Manager/Marketing & Events Coordinator
Mona Poinan, President
400 Packett’s Landing Fairport, NY 14450
Colonial Belle Office: (585)223-9470