Cumberland Times-News

Local News

April 16, 2013

Canal Place supports River Project

Blue Bridge dam removal necessary for proposed recreation area

CUMBERLAND — The Canal Place Preservation & Development Authority has agreed to clear the way for members of the body to assist and work with the mayor and city council of Cumberland, American Rivers and other parties involved in what is known as the River Project.

The project would ultimately facilitate the removal of the dam under the Cumberland-Ridgeley Bridge, which affects the flow of the North Branch of the Potomac River, to make way for a river-based recreational area.

Dubbed the River Project in past years by the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, the proposal has been discussed since 2009.

“We need to take full advantages of the resources we have. Tourism is part of our economy,” said Stuart Czapski, the executive director of the chamber of commerce.

The intentions of the Canal Place authority were disclosed Tuesday during the regular monthly meeting of the board.

Dee Dee Ritchie, the Canal Place executive director, informed the authority of the advantages of River Project and sought to gauge the level of support from the authority members.

The authority gave the nod to further exploration of the River Project with no members expressing any opposition.

Ritchie said the main focus of the authority would be to assist in finding a good location for canoe and kayak entry access along the river adjacent to the Canal Place property.

“Andy (Vick, the Canal Place authority chair) and I met with Kevin Brandt (superintendent of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park) in the past and there is an area down river that would be ideal for it (public access),” said Ritchie.

The main stumbling block holding up the River Project is the funding of core samples needed to determine the level of toxins in the sediment behind the dam. American Rivers, a Washington-based organization that assists in river cleanup projects, has secured around $40,000 so far of the $75,000 needed to fund the testing.

 “There is a move across the state to remove all of the industrial dams and put the rivers back to their natural state,” said Czapski.

Ritchie said she is currently involved in discussions with the Allegany County Health Department and the Maryland Department of the Environment on the river water and its potential for recreational use.

If the level of toxins are within a range that can be abated without significant dredging and other costs, then the plan could become a reality it it can garner the political support necessary to get the project fully funded.

In other Canal Place news, the development of the Footer Dye Works building moves forward with a deadline set for Monday for firms to submit proposals for the project’s next step, which is a structural inspection of the roof.

“We hope to be able to award that contract as soon as we can. The Community Legacy (grant) will pay for that and probably the rest of the Maryland Heritage Area Emergency Grant that we got,” said Ritchie.

Requests for plans from potential developers to inhabit and establish tourism-related commerce in the historic structure are not expected to be solicited until current options on an adjacent lot expire in August.

The options, on what is known as parcel B, have been a problem for developers who see them as an obstacle to any expansion at the property including additional parking.

The authority also an-nounced plans to construct a playground in the grassy area adjacent to the Western Maryland Railway Station. A $62,000 Community Parks and Playgrounds Grant is being secured for the playground.

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

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