Cumberland Times-News

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January 13, 2013

Project to remove dam still alive

Many challenges lie ahead, including study

CUMBERLAND — The project of removing the dam beneath the Cumberland-Ridgeley, W.Va., bridge to open up the waterway for recreational use received a boost recently in the form of a $40,000 grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Serena McClain, director of river restoration with American Rivers.

American Rivers, based in Washington, D.C., is an organization that helps facilitate the protection and restoration of the nation’s rivers and streams.

“It’s a great project in the middle of the town. Cumberland has done a great job of becoming a recreational center,” said McClain.

The removal of the dam still faces many challenges, most significantly from the study of sediment quality of the riverbed at the site.

The grant is to be used for core sampling of the sediment at the dam. This testing is critical because it will gauge the level of contaminants, specifically dioxins, present.

“Ideally, the project needs another $35,000 in order to do the most robust testing possible. We are currently pursuing other avenues for the funding,” McClain said.

McClain said American Rivers will pursue extra funding for complete testing but if funds are not secured they can still proceed with limited testing.

“I’d like to have (sediment testing) started by June,” said McClain.

Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim remains cautious about the possibility of opening the river for public use.

“I’m happy about (the grant). It’s a start,” said Grim.

Grim said he and city council members have not formed an opinion yet to make the project a priority. He wants to see the quality of the sediment behind the dam.

“This will get us started to see what’s under that bridge,” said Grim.

What does lie under the bridge is 6 to 8 feet of sediment, the deepest portion of a sediment bed that starts two miles up the river.

The North Branch of the Potomac River had been a water supplier for industrial use for many years before more stringent environmental standards were put in place.

Cumberland City Councilman Nick Scarpelli said the samples will be done by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The ownership of the dam has been another source of contention for the project.

“Sen. Barbara Mikulski had sent a letter to the Army Corps. of Engineers last year,” said McClain.

The Army Corps., the state of Maryland as well as the cities of Cumberland and Ridgeley, W.Va., have all rejected ownership of and responsibility for the dam, leaving that question in limbo, as well.

“We hope that this question doesn’t end up in the courts,” said McClain.

However, McClain and Scarpelli both feel that the question of ownership of the dam will not derail the project.

“I don’t think that (the ownership) will be a deal-breaker. I believe we can work through that,” said Scarpelli.

More grants will be needed for project design and other phases.

What remains key is the level of contaminants.

“We need to know how much we’ll need to dredge and remove,” said McClain.

Heavy dredging and removal of contaminants could add significantly to the cost of the project.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com

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