Cumberland Times-News

June 15, 2013

Develop the waterway


Cumberland Times-News

— Since the debate over removing the dam started about four years ago, I have been concerned about the effect the dam removal would have on the area’s welfare.

I have no particular love for dams, but I see the benefits that this one provides. Nowhere else on the river is there such a placid stretch of water as the 3.1 miles of smooth boating provided by this small dam.

This piece of water is a true hidden gem. In our local history it was a boating mecca from the time it was created in the 1840s until the 1930s when pollution drove boaters away.

It was used by craft of all kind, including The Potomac Queen paddlewheel, which carried picnickers from Cumberland to Dreyer’s Beach, an island used for recreation.

We need leadership with the vision to see that the Potomac Queen Historic Waterway can be returned to its historic uses and become a tourism opportunity once again.

The waterway has the potential to provide every sort of boating. Canoes, kayaks, rowboats, sail boats, power boats, and paddle boats, all of which were in use a century ago on our Potomac River, and could be seen there again.

Access to the waterway would allow for more family oriented and tourist friendly boating rather than just the occasional canoeist passing through the city.

The vision of another way to develop the waterway might include a lighted waterfall at the dam, a safety barrier installed above it, badly needed park-like access areas to the water including boat launches.

An inviting walkway along the levee from Wills Creek to the area of the old Moose building with benches, picnic tables, and a properly landscaped levee face. All this along with regular water quality testing to assure that such access is safe.

We know our elected officials will make the dam removal decision with the best interest of the community at heart, but if that decision will be based on the information they receive only from one side of the debate, the result will be be a foregone conclusion.

I asked to present a brief statement opposing the dam removal at the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce’s public meeting on the subject on June 6, but was told the format did not allow for statements from the public.

At the resulting meeting, citizens were treated to a one-hour Powerpoint presentation on the benefits of the dam removal by two individuals whose job is to remove dams; that is what they get paid to do.

The public was only allowed to ask questions, but not make a case for saving the dam. The chamber should be applauded for bringing this debate to the public, but more than one side of the debate should have been heard.

For decades our communities have been approached by experts from outside the area with good ideas.

In the 1970s, we were told it would be a good idea to tear down many of Cumberland’s historic buildings as part of “urban renewal.”

We were told it would be a good idea to demolish the finest hotel in Maryland, the Queen City Station, and we were told it would be a good idea to build an interstate highway through the heart of our historic city.

The decision to remove the dam should be made after careful deliberation.

If our local government can’t come up with the vision to make use of the gift of the Potomac Queen Historic Waterway, then let the dam busters with their money and influence tear it down.

We’ll all live with the consequences as we always have.

Gary Clites

Carpendale, W.Va.