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Stockade Association honors ice-breaking effort

NYS Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton is congratulated by Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger
Lucas Willard
NYS Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton is congratulated by Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger

An experimental effort to mitigate ice jams and related flooding on the Mohawk River was celebrated Thursday in Schenectady.

This winter saw the return of an ice-breaking tug patrolling the Mohawk near Schenectady.

The tugboat Margot’s work to break ice and keep the river flowing is part of an effort coordinated by the New York State Canal Corporation.

Some of those involved were honored Thursday night by the Stockade Association, at the neighborhood group’s first in-person meeting since January 2020.

Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger spoke to the crowd inside the newly-reopened Stockade Inn.

“It takes many people to develop and execute the various strategies to manage the river. Thus we have several people to thank tonight,” said Unger.

The icy 2021-2022 winter was more “typical” than the warmer previous season.

Tugboat Margot Captain Chris Deeley said the crew learned a lot about the river during the last two seasons.

“We broke some ice but it was more of a learning experiencing for us and for Canals. The capability of the tugboat, the best weather to go out and break ice, navigation issues, they were all worked out last year which was favorable,” said Deeley. “And then this year was the real deal when we had 16 to 18 inches of ice.”

Deeley said the crew observed sheet ice forming quickly during more frigid parts of the winter.

“It was the cold, windless nights where it really set up thick. And then we would often find two inches of new ice from when we broke ice the day before ‘til the next morning,” said Deeley.

But while it appears the effort was a success in preventing ice jam flooding in 2022, New York State Canal Corporation Director and former Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton cautioned against calling it the final solution.

“Our message tonight is it’s not a cure. It’s not a prevent-all. It’s something that seems to be working well, but we need to do some other things also,” said Stratton.

One strategy under consideration, said Stratton, is to modify the Lock 7 dam downstream to allow more water to pass over – a move that may mitigate ice jams but also seasonal flooding.

Current Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy wants to see the ice-breaking continue.

“Always cross your fingers that it will all work out, but it’s a fickle nature of Mother Nature that we have to deal with, and this seems to be a solution that hopefully we’ll be able to have the state continue into the future to minimize the potential for flooding not only Stockade but other areas along the river,” said McCarthy.

Among those honored Thursday was longtime Stockade resident and retired architect Jim Duggan, who has long called for efforts to reduce seasonal flooding.

“This community is terribly valuable on the national scale as well as the state, and I think we should do everything possible to protect individuals living here so it isn’t just a museum of stretchers on narrow streets, but a truly living community – as my family and I experienced for about a half-century. Thank you,” said Duggan.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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