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Annual duck race at Canal Fest back on

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Posted at 6:40 PM, Jul 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-12 16:37:55-04

A long standing tradition at Canal Fest in the Tonawandas is back on, thanks to the work of Senator Robert Ortt and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Community Missions has run the duck race for almost a decade, but its legacy runs as long as the festival's. This year, because of a decades-old state law, the non-profit was in danger of not being able to operate the race.

The fundraiser gathers about $7,000 every year for Community Missions (CMI). That much money goes a long way to helping people in need across Niagara County.

CMI runs soup kitchens, collects and hands out clothing and offers shelter for people in Niagara County. They also help those struggling with mental health issues and run a youth program.

But Canal Fest helps out CMI with a lot more than raising money. The festival helps the organization reach a wider audience and teach others how they can support those in their communities that need help.

"Canal Fest is really neat because there's just so many people that walk by," Christian Hoffman said. He is the communications and development manager at CMI. "It draws about 250,000 to 300,000 people and many of them walk by that tent and see a giant inflatable duck on a white tent."

The duck race draws in people of all ages. CMI volunteers get to meet thousands of people during the festival and help raise awareness.

A similar duck race on the Erie Canal in Brockport was also in danger of being shut down because these "games of chance" are in violation of current state law, but it's a law that most people didn't know existed.

"This law has been on the books for years and it's never really been enforced," NYS Senator Robert Ortt explained.

CMI learned about the law two weeks ago.

"The thought never crossed anyone's mind," Hoffman said.

Under current law, non-profit organizations are allowed to host games of chance on private property and municipal property (if allowed by the municipality). However, they are not allowed to host these games on public state land.

Ortt is introducing legislation next session that will expand the language to fix this technicality. If passed, state land like the Erie Canal can be used by non-profits to host "games of chance."

But in the meantime, Governor Cuomo announced a waiver that will allow these games to continue.

"Events like the duck derbies were raising money for good causes, not malice, and organizations were about to suddenly be penalized for that solely because those events are being held on state property," said Ortt. "I'm thankful that a commitment to common sense and charity won the day."