Tonawanda News

May 2, 2013

Gateway to summer

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — While last year’s dry weather had its pros on cons, it did give an exceptional early boost to the boating season, one of the Twin Cities’ main summer economic and cultural drivers.

Both sides of the Erie Canal had banner years in 2012 with an influx of vessel traffic. North Tonawanda pulled in $19,000 in boater fee revenue and the city $25,000. The municipalities’ Erie Canal shoreline are under the direction of their respective recreation departments.

While figures for previous years weren’t readily available for either city, officials from both say revenue was up significantly from 2011, when wet weather disrupted the early part of the boating season.

However, there was still room for improvement in North Tonawanda, said Larry Kuebler, who took over as Gateway Harbor Master last fall, in addition to his duties as the park maintenance supervisor.

Kuebler said despite the apparent economic gains, a leadership hole was left on the North Tonawanda side of the canal last summer, when the former harbor master left midseason to pursue other job opportunities.

He’s now trying to remedy that gap, with the addition of two full-time employees who he said will lend a more consistent presence to the harbor, where the lack of oversight last year may have caused the loss of some revenue.

“Things just got out of hand down there,” he said. “There was a lot of problems last year and no coordination, nobody really in charge. There was just seasonal college kids and we found they were not showing up.”

Plans for a permanent structure near the Renaissance Bridge are in play for this summer, Kuebler said, rather than a temporary tent that has been used for years as a payment and registration station.

Kuebler said he will also launch early collection fees that will begin this weekend, more than a month ahead of 2012, while he is researching the possibility of placing cameras near the canal that he said would better track the number of boats and the collection of fees.

“I’m making some improvement down there,” he said. “I’m putting in an actual building, it will be more computerized, we’ve also opened up credit card payments. “

Water levels are also a concern, partly as a result of a minor drought last year. Kuebler said it won’t be a problem with boaters directly at the Gateway Harbor, though the lower levels may become a problem in launching areas such as the North Tonawanda Botanical Gardens.

Patricia Brosius, NT recreation department head, said the fee structure will also remain status quo. Boats 24-feet and under will pay $15 per day to dock and tap into the electric and water, $20 for boats 26- to 40-feet and $25 for those 41-feet and over. The Erie County side of the canal offers the same fee structure, which Brosius said is created by a joint Gateway Harbor committee.

Amanda Galas, recreation director in Tonawanda, said she saw few of the problems that arose last year in the Lumber City.

“It was a pretty darn good year,” she said. “Weather was perfect for boating. It looks like it will be a nice summer this year too.”

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.