Sometimes what was once considered a valuable asset is later viewed as a liability.
Such is the case with the old industrial dam that sits beneath the Blue Bridge between Cumberland and Ridgeley, West Virginia, and slows the natural flow of the North Branch of the Potomac River.
We’ve been told that installation of the rounded concrete barrier was necessary for manufacturing operations at Kelly-Springfield Tire Co., which ceased production decades ago. The spillway creates a backwater that’s no longer needed. Removing it would restore the Potomac to its natural state, which is exactly what planners of a river park there want.
To that end, Cumberland’s mayor and council members voted unanimously Tuesday evening to proceed with the process through which the city will officially become the owner of the dam.
He who legally owns the dam is allowed to tear it down.
If things eventually work out according to plan, kayakers and other boaters can paddle freely without fear of tumbling over the mademade waterfall.
We remember when the river was foul, emitting a stench from factory byproducts, and anglers didn’t eat the fish they caught. The plants have been shuttered, but the toxins they left behind may be lurking in sludge at the base of the dam.
The Times-News has printed stories in the past about core samples being taken to determine the level of toxicity and the thousands of dollars apparently spent to do so. Some funding for the sediment tests reportedly was offered by American Rivers, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that assists river rehabilitation projects.
We haven’t heard much about that lately. We also wonder about the level of the river, which will drop significantly if the spillway is removed. The Potomac is fairly shallow in spots much of the time, so recreational boating certainly would be affected, casting doubts on a whitewater course envisioned as part of the river park.
Regardless of potential environmental nastiness and low water concerns, the actual eradication of the old barrier presents engineering challenges in itself.
Dam removal advocates must believe they can overcome any problems they may encounter.
For the sake of our city, we hope they are right.