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Seaway announces opening of visitor’s center

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MASSENA - The St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation announced Thursday that their Dwight D. Eisenhower Visitor’s Center at the Eisenhower Lock will open for the season today.

But, at least for now, the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce won’t have a presence with its gift shop.

The Visitor’s Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, including weekends, through Labor Day, Sept. 2.

It normally opens on Memorial Day, but was delayed this year for on-going facility maintenance to repair damages caused by the winter weather. In the interim, visitors were asked to view ships from the Eisenhower Lock North Side Observation Area, which remains open through the year.

The repairs included replacement of the main building’s roof and repairs to the ground floor of the center that suffered water damage. The 50-year-old structure sustained the damage due to a roof failure that is also the main level of the observation deck.

“They had major ice and snow damage and had to wait for repair. It’s been rectified. The Seaway did a good job. They did what they had to do. They needed the sunny weather (to complete the roof repair),”chamber Executive Director Michael J. Gleason said.

The opening delay, however, meant calls to the chamber office from visitors.

“We’ve had a lot of calls from people wondering what was going on. People are coming down for day trips and wondering why the lock store was not open. People are coming from all over the place,” he said.

Now, Seaway officials say, they’re ready to allow visitors in, giving them an opportunity to watch commercial and cruise ship transits from around the world from an observation deck. Guides are also available to provide additional information to tourists.

Seaway officials said hundreds of ships from all over the world transit the St. Lawrence Seaway annually, carrying a wide variety of cargoes including grains, iron ore, coal, steel stone, steel slabs and project cargoes.

Up-to-date information on estimated vessel transit times is available by calling (315) 769-2422 for a voice recording of that day’s projected lockage schedule. Additional information is on their website at www.greatlakes-seaway.com/en/navigating/map/index.html. That map updates every 15 minutes with details on those ships currently in transit within the Seaway System.

Under security measures which were implemented after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, visitors will be asked to leave all packages, bags and backpacks in their vehicles. Any necessary items that need to be carried into the viewing area must be presented for inspection or for checking by a metal detecting wand.

While visitors will be able to view the ships, they may not find the chamber’s gift shop open for business.

Mr. Gleason said it boils down to funding for the employees to man the shop. He said they had sent a letter to Seaway officials explaining that they would not be able to run the store “because we’re short of funds to run it.”

They, like some local municipalities including the town of Massena, are waiting for the arrival of casino gaming compact funds from the state. That money, which the chamber receives from the town of Massena, is used to pay the employees who staff the gift shop.

“If the New York state money comes in, it might change the equation. We can’t work without that money. The amount of money on payroll that we have to pay out would not be enough to cover it,” Mr. Gleason said.

Whether the chamber will be able to offer its Eisenhower Lock gift shop this year still remains to be seen, but chamber Board President Susan E. Stiles had wondered during the board’s June meeting if it would be financially worth it to open for one month if the funding isn’t available until August.

Instead, the chamber will devote its resources to the upcoming Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown from Aug. 8 to 11 in Whittaker Park, Waddington. There, they’ll have a booth set up to sell some of their items. Other chambers from throughout the area will also be there for the event.

“It’ll just be a 10-foot by 10-foot selling spot. We have all that stuff to sell from the lock store. It’s going to be a lot of work for four days, but at least we’ll have that outlet,” Mr. Gleason said.

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