It could be a month or more before highway crews in Bristol and Canandaigua can get back to work on a $2-million joint water project.

 Highway crews in the towns of Bristol and Canandaigua will have to find other ways to keep busy for the next several weeks as work has ceased on a $2 million joint water project until state funding — promised nearly two years ago — kicks in.

“I’m gambling on Albany, and I’m an optimistic person,” said Canandaigua Highway Superintendent Jim Hecker, who expects to get back to work on the project in two to three weeks. “But we should have had the money for that project a long time ago, and it still isn’t here.”

In the planning stages for nearly a decade, the Canandaigua-Bristol water district got under way in August. Once completed, the new main will carry Canandaigua water from Cheshire to Goodale Road, Montanye Road and parts of County Road 32 and Route 64 in Bristol Center.

Or at least that was the plan until both towns realized they could no longer front the money for the lagging state funds without breaking their own banks. Bristol Town Supervisor Wayne Houseman said the towns already tapped their $970,000 contribution to the project. The rest of the funding was supposed to come from a state grant for $1.2 million, procured by Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew.

“People have been paid up to this point,” Houseman said. “But we cannot exhaust our funds totally. Therefore, we have got to wait for that reimbursement.”

Hecker said that before the project halted, his crews were working to get all the pipe in the ground by Thanksgiving so that everything could be wrapped up on the project by Christmas.

“We were going to make it until this came up,” said Hecker, who is not happy that he has been ordered to stop work. “A lot of guys have been working very hard on this project, and they take a lot of pride in their work.”

Progress will temporarily halt in Bristol Center, leaving about 2,000 of the 34,000 feet of pipe yet to be laid — mostly down County Road 32 and Route 64. Hecker said that he will find some other work to keep his crew busy. They may even get the snowplows ready for winter.

Initially, the state promised a portion of the $1.2 million grant upfront to pay for the engineering study, he said. That never came through because in order to get the funding, the towns had to have a permit from the state Health Department that itself was dependent on the engineering study — and so the vicious cycle began.

But that permit has now been filed and sent to Albany for approval.

“I can’t help but think they have got everything they have ever asked for now, and I don’t think they can hold it up any longer,” he said.

Just how long has the vicious circle been going on?

Craig J. Miller, spokesman for Volker, said that the grant money had been obtained when the previous state administration enacted the budget for 2005-2006.

“Both the Assembly and Senate passed those budget bills that were then signed into law by then-Governor George Pataki in 2006,” said Miller. “That money was secured and adopted.”

Any delays in funding are likely a result of slowdowns in the checks and balances enacted by the governor’s office, Miller said.

“If the current governor is slowing down the process — I don’t know,” he said. “But I am hearing from other recipients of state grants that the funding process is being slowed down. ... I’m not sure why the governor is doing this.”

Canandaigua Town Supervisor Lloyd Kinnear blames the state Department of Environmental Conservation rather than the governor for the mess. He is also more cynical than Hecker and Houseman about when the cash will finally start to flow. His estimate: four weeks or more.

DEC spokesperson Lori O’Connell said that the DEC is not responsible for funding and does not issue grants for water supply projects. Furthermore, she said, any holdups in getting the money for the project could not be the fault of the DEC since a permit for the water district was issued back in August.

A representative from the governor’s office did not return calls prior to press time.

Daily Messenger writer Philip Anselmo can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 322, or at panselmo@mpnewspapers.com.