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Details of Big Slackwater restoration plan unveiled

$16.6 million project involves rebuilding 1.5-mile section of towpath

$16.6 million project involves rebuilding 1.5-mile section of towpath

November 19, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WILLIAMSPORT -- C&O Canal officials revealed details Thursday about their plans for restoring the Big Slackwater section of the canal towpath during a public meeting on the project.

About 15 people attended the meeting in the Williamsport Community Building at Byron Memorial Park.

The $16.6 million project involves rebuilding a roughly 1.5-mile section of the towpath upstream of Dam No. 4 that has fallen into disrepair and is impassable in some sections. Currently, towpath users are directed to a five-mile detour along narrow, winding hilly roads, without shoulders, said Dan Copenhaver, Chief of Preservation and Project Management for the C&O Canal.

That is the only closure on the entire 184.5-mile C&O Canal towpath, Copenhaver said.

The project has received about $12.1 million in federal stimulus funding, and park officials hope to receive $4.4 million more from the state's Transportation Enhancement Program, which distributes federal funds earmarked for trail-related projects.

The project would span about 2 1/2 miles, from the Dam 4 boat ramp to McMahon's Mill, Copenhaver said.

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For about 5,500 feet of towpath at the southern end of this stretch, the project will involve rehabilitating the towpath by clearing trees and replacing the existing surface with crushed stone, Copenhaver said.

The more complex portion of the project will be stabilizing and, in places, rebuilding the towpath along the rest of the stretch, where the original towpath ran beside the Potomac River, supported by a retaining wall, he said.

In spots where the original stone wall is still in good condition, the towpath will be stabilized using a "jet grout" system, he said. In areas where the wall has washed away, crews will install a precast concrete pier anchored into the bedrock, as well as a hung precast panel skirt that will look like the original rock wall and will prevent debris from washing up under the walkway, Copenhaver said.

Much of that work will have to be done from barges in the Potomac River, Copenhaver said.

The National Park Service recently completed an environmental assessment to analyze the project's potential impacts to the natural, cultural and human environment, which concluded that the project was environmentally preferably to its alternative, which would be to take no action.

That assessment, which is available online, shows the project would have some adverse impact on factors such as soils, vegetation and wetlands, but would "preserve a very important natural and cultural aspect of our national heritage."

The National Park Service is accepting comments on the environmental assessment through Dec. 14, which can be submitted online or sent to the C&O Canal National Historical Park Headquarters, attention Superintendent Kevin Brandt, at 1850 Dual Highway, Hagerstown, MD 21740.

Brandt said the park hopes to advertise the project next spring and begin work next summer. The work will take at least two summers, Copenhaver said.

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To read the draft environmental assessment for the Big Slackwater project and submit comments online, go to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/choh

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