Canal lock remains closed a bit longer

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An unexpected repair to a lock door in the Shinnecock Canal means boaters will have to wait even longer—possibly until after Memorial Day weekend—for it to become a fully operational waterway again.

Two of the canal’s locks depend on the tide, and they remain open, though only when the tide flows south. The third lock is mechanical, and pumps water between the lock gates to allow boats to pass the canal connecting the Shinnecock and Peconic bays at any tide.

The mechanical lock door has been closed since about December 1, leaving boaters with up to a six-hour delay as they wait for the tide to change directions. When the lock is working properly, if a boat is traveling north, the water level in the lock is raised with hydraulic pumps to the Shinnecock Bay height, the southern lock gates are opened, the boat enters the lock and the gates are closed. The water level inside the lock is then lowered to match that of Peconic Bay, and the northern gates are opened to let the boat out. The process is reversed for boats traveling south.

The Suffolk County Department of Public Works, which maintains the locks, expected repairs to be completed by the end of this month, said DPW Commissioner Gil Anderson. However, a hinge problem was found on one of the locks, he said.

“It’s kind of like a ball in a cup,” he explained, “and the cup part itself needs to be replaced.”

The damage was discovered as part of routine maintenance, he said.

“We schedule it approximately every six years,” said Tom Rogers, director of bridges, structures and waterways for the DPW, regarding the maintenance schedule. “We do the same on the tide gates in alternate six years.”

The lock doors are removed so rusted steel can be replaced and they can be coated with epoxy paint, he explained. “We found that there was more deterioration than we suspected,” he added.

In January, the doors were removed by G. Pensa and Sons Incorporated of Deer Park, Mr. Rogers said. Then in March, when the contractors went into the canal to reinstall the doors, they discovered the hinges on the south door would need to be replaced. The county contracted with company for $486,950 to rehabilitate the lock doors, he said, but the new hinges may add about $50,000 to the original cost. “We’re in the process of fabricating the replacement parts,” he said.

Mr. Rogers said he is still hoping the work can be completed before Memorial Day. In the meantime, it’s impossible for boats to pass through against the tide, he said.

“We’re behind,” Mr. Anderson admitted, “but we’re making every effort we can to get this done as quick as we can.”

The tidal locks, which have remained operational, are controlled by the flow of water between Peconic and Shinnecock bays, and open and close as the diametrically opposing tides rise and fall. When the tide in Shinnecock Bay rises, and the tide in Peconic Bay drops, the northward flow of water through the canal closes the tidal locks, stopping the flow and causing the water at the south side of the locks to build higher than to the north.

Bill Hillman, the chief engineer of highways, structures and waterways for DPW, said he understands that closing the mechanical lock is an inconvenience. However, he added, “It’s much better to deal with it now than have the door fall off in the middle of the summer.”

Mr. Hillman pointed out that breakdowns of the tidal and mechanical gates are not uncommon. The mechanical gates are controlled by a mechanical arm with a piston that forces them open and closed, he said.

“That piston is anchored into the concrete wall and deck,” he said. “The anchorage for that piston arm failed, and the doors couldn’t open. So we had to do a temporary repair last year.”

He also recalled an occasion when ?the hinge on a tidal gate broke in the winter. “It’s probably one of the most extreme environments you can put equipment in,” he noted, pointing out that the recently discovered broken hinges, called pintles, were below 30 feet of water.

Fabricating new pintles will be challenging for the contractors, because they are “monstrous” pieces of metal, Mr. Hillman said.

“This is the nature of construction,” he added. “You open up a can of worms when you start fooling with things.”

For boaters to avoid a six-hour delay, Mr. Hillman recommended that they refer to tide charts, and time their arrival at the canal when it will be open.

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