Blue Bridge

The dam beneath the Blue Bridge between Cumberland and Ridgeley, W.Va., would be removed as part of the proposed river park project.

CUMBERLAND, Md. — Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss said he intends to write a letter requesting the city of Cumberland take ownership of the industrial dam beneath the bridge connecting Cumberland and Ridgeley, West Virginia.

Ownership of the dam, which spans the North Branch of the Potomac River, has been in dispute for several years with the city, state of Maryland and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unable to determine who owns the structure. The dam was built in 1955 to create backwater used in production by the Kelly-Springfield Tire Co., which shutdown in the 1980s. However, the structure is also part of the flood control system located at the site.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office studied the matter in 2014 and issued a letter determining to the best of its knowledge that the dam belonged to the city of Cumberland. The advantage of the city volunteering to accept ownership would be it allows for any action on the dam — such as full or partial removal of the structure — to be expedited.

Canal Place officials say the dam is an obstacle for the proposed river park project which would include a moderate whitewater course, docks for canoes and kayaks, viewing area, parking lot and a walking trail behind Canal Place.

The latest developments on the river park were disclosed Tuesday at a virtual meeting of the Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority. Supporters of the proposed project are hoping to receive a letter from Morriss claiming city ownership of the dam by Oct. 8.

Morriss, who sits on the CPPDA board, said he supports the project and will pursue ownership.

“The city will be sending a letter taking ownership of the dam for the purpose of this project,” Morriss told the Times-News after the meeting. “I am preparing to do that now and it will be out by the end of the week.”

The Canal Place board also voted to move forward with a boundary survey at the site. Through a bid process they selected Civil and Environmental Consultants Inc. to perform the survey, which will clarify all boundaries along the river. Maryland owns the river bed over to the high-water mark on the West Virginia side. In addition, the survey will also indicate any privately owned lots adjacent to the river. Total cost of the survey is $45,000, paid for by state and federal grants.

William Atkinson, river park project coordinator, provided an update and timeline on the project that is expected to cost roughly $15 million.

Atkinson said Water and Land Solutions, a private company that oversees large wetlands restoration projects, will manage the project and handle the financing through the use of bankable mitigation credits.

Atkinson said the project needs a current service area larger than Allegany County to pull enough mitigation credits to cover the expense of the project. He hopes the Army Corps of Engineers will help expand the service area to other counties along the Potomac as far down as the Chesapeake Bay.

A public hearing will be held sometime in November on the entire project which will be hosted by the Army Corps. The date and location of the meeting has not been set as of yet.

“If (the service areas are not) at least down to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, WLS doesn’t feel they will have their investors secure enough to put up the money to do the project. So that could be our only hiccup,” said Atkinson. “But everyone at this point is in favor of expanding the service area.”

Atkinson remains optimistic that the application for permits, which will include Morriss’ letter, will be successful. He hopes to have a ground breaking on the river mitigation portion in November of 2022, and the work on the river park to begin in the spring on 2023.

Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter.

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Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter @greglarryctn.