Cumberland Times-News

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November 2, 2013

Attorney General assembles team to research ownership of Blue Bridge Dam

CUMBERLAND — The office of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler has written a letter to the District 1 legislative delegation that says the Attorney General’s Office has pulled together a team of attorneys to research who owns the dam beneath the Cumberland-Ridgeley Bridge.

Following communications from Delegate Kevin Kelly asking for the Attorney General’s Office to make a determination, the AG’s office responded in a letter dated Oct. 28.

“We have pulled together a team of attorneys from the divisions of the AG’s office that have the closest connection to the dam and the issues surrounding its construction, regulation, and, ultimately, ownership,” the letter from the AG’s office said.

The letter was signed by Chief Counsel Adam Snyder.

“We are very appreciative of the response. We think their insight and direction as to the ownership of the dam will be very helpful,” said Kelly.

Widespread interest in using the North Branch of the Potomac River for recreational purposes was evidenced by around 200 people who attended a forum on the topic over the summer held at the Allegany Museum.

Plans for recreational use of the river resource run from removal of the dam beneath the Blue Bridge to return the river to its natural state, to encouraging boat and kayak usage by creating a boat landing site above the dam and a boat launch below the dam.

Other river proponents have called for the possibility of a riverwalk or even a whitewater park.

Opinions on the topic vary greatly but many agree that the river is a resource that needs to be capitalized on.

Another piece of the complicated topic of how to best use the river resource has been the quality of the water. The Potomac has multiple combined sewer overflow stations along the river, including two below Canal Place.

Recently, Brian Dicken, director of environmental health for the Allegany County Health Department, tested the waters below the dam to determine the presence of bacteria.

“When there is a lot of rain, the CSO station must release pressure,” said Dicken.

Pressure builds up on the combined pipe system that carries sewage as well as storm water runoff, and the result is a release of the pressure by discharging the overflow into the river.

Although diluted, this results in sewage being dumped into the river during heavy rain events.

“When we tested the water, we found out pretty much what we thought we would find,” said Dicken.

Dicken said they tested the waters near Canal Place after a rain in the area of a CSO station on the Maryland side, and tested away from the CSOs on the West Virginia side.

“We found elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria near the CSO. However, the water tested away from the CSO was found to be normal,” said Dicken.

Dicken said the city is permitted to dump storm water/sewage overflows into the river.

However, the state has placed the city, which has been working on the problem, under an order to correct the CSO discharge problem by 2020.

Another topic facing those who would like to see the dam removed has been whether the dam and bridge have been built in connection with one another. This has raised the question as to if you remove the dam would it affect the structural integrity of the bridge.

Gary Clites, an author and historian from Carpendale, W.Va., recently discovered a transcript that offered some additional information on the topic.

The transcript, dated Oct. 11, 1955, is of a speech by then-Maryland Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin, at the dedication of two newly constructed bridges at the time. One bridge was located in Kitzmiller and the other was the Cumberland-Ridgeley Bridge.

McKeldin said the following about the new Cumberland-Ridgeley Bridge that was replacing the original 1903 bridge:

“This handsome two-span arch structure was built on the top of the industrial dam, a flood control project of the city of Cumberland in cooperation with the United States Corps of Engineers.

“I think great credit is due to the engineers who designed such a structure which, because it was built on a dam instead of its own foundations, resulted in a very substantial savings to the taxpayers and completion much sooner than otherwise.”

This letter offers some insight into not only who constructed it, but why and how it was constructed.

It’s examining the many documents like these that the Attorney General’s Office has stated will make the endeavor to determine who is responsible “a complicated one at that.”

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

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