The New York State Canal Corporation has not performed inspections as required on a significant number of critical structures along the system’s 524 miles of waterways, according to an audit released today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
“There are significant canal structures that have not been inspected in many years – and some not at all, possibly elevating risks to the canal system, canal users and those who live by it,” DiNapoli said. “Because the canal system depends on aging hydraulic structures and includes many other structures that are exposed to the elements, regular inspections are essential to ensure safety. Canal officials should immediately seek all available funding for infrastructure repair, make sure all inspections are getting done and the system’s greatest repair needs are being met. It is encouraging that in response to the audit, canal officials largely concur with our recommendations.”
The Canal Corp., a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority, was created in 1992 to operate and maintain the state canal system. State law requires the corporation to maintain the system in good condition, and the corporation has established inspection requirements and frequency standards, including in-depth inspections of structural safety and integrity on a two-year cycle. Of the 2,065 structures the corporation is required to inspect, 747, including dams and locks, are deemed “critical.” By the corporation’s own definition, failure of these structures could risk serious injury and property damage.
DiNapoli’s auditors found the Canal Corp. performs routine operational and reliability checks of its system’s structures, but has not conducted more in-depth inspections of a significant number of these structures.
In total, 792, or 38 percent, of the system’s structures did not have an above-water inspection within the last five years, and 163 of these (8 percent) have never had one. Auditors found 430 high- and intermediate-importance structures (58 percent) have not had an inspection within the last two years, as required, including 55 (7 percent) that have not had an inspection in 10 years and 27 (4 percent) that have never had one.
Auditors also found that of the 1,068 structures requiring below-water inspections, 832 (78 percent) have not received them within five years. As of August 2014, only 11 percent (114) of all structures requiring below-water inspections had received them within the past 2 years, while 692 structures have never had their required below-water inspection.
According to the minutes from the June 6, 2014 meeting between the Thruway Authority and Canal Corp. boards, only about 55 percent of the canal system’s critical structures were in good condition in recent years due to funding constraints.
Auditors also noted that while the corporation has developed several tools to prioritize its capital and maintenance repair needs, in many cases, these tools do not use data that is accurate or current and are unreliable.
DiNapoli recommended the Canal Corp.:
- Improve the clarity and effectiveness of the inspection scheduling process for high- and intermediate-importance structures;
- Promptly conduct inspections of any high- and intermediate-importance structures that have never had inspections or where significant time has elapsed since the last inspection;
- Determine the canal system’s true inspection program needs and incorporate them into budget requests;
- Enter into a formal agreement, as allowed by law, with the state Department of Transportation to cover inspection responsibilities for all state-owned canal system bridges, and adhere by its provisions;
- Improve the process for prioritizing infrastructure maintenance;
- Ensure all high- and intermediate-importance structures, and all inspection results, are considered when deciding on maintenance priorities and capital plans;
- Routinely re-evaluate whether the canal system’s current maintenance and capital plans target funding toward its most pressing needs, and redirect funding when necessary; and
- Work with the Thruway Authority to develop a realistic long-term detailed strategic and financing plan aimed at improving the overall condition of the canal system’s infrastructure.
Canal Corp. officials agreed with the recommendations and have started taking actions to implement them.
For a copy of the full report, including the corporation’s response, see New York State Canal Corporation: Infrastructure Inspection and Maintenance, or go to: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093015/14s45.pdf.