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Dry canal threatens Barge Bash

Stone culvert repair could mean no water for Hancock event

April 09, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

HANCOCK -- A Barge Bash with no water?

That could happen in June as the stretch of canal by the town of Hancock will remain dry through the fall, said Kevin Brandt, superintendent for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

The canal will remain dry so a historic stone culvert that has been leaking for years can be repaired, Brandt said Thursday. The culvert is about 150 feet upstream from the Potomac River boat ramp bridge that crosses the canal.

Because the park was able to get $1 million to $2 million for the repair work through the federal Recovery Act now, it will cost less money and time to get the work done than if the culvert failed completely, Brandt said. There have been times when other culverts have failed along the canal and couldn't be fixed for years, leaving those areas dry during those times, he said.

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Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said he met Friday morning with Brandt to discuss the canal and the Barge Bash, scheduled for June 26. The Barge Bash is a popular event, and contest, in which people construct creatively designed "barges" or boats to float down the canal.

Murphy said he talked with canal officials about whether there was a way to temporarily rewater part of the canal for the event, and he showed them a drawing of the town's concept for putting up a dike so the area used for the event could be filled while the culvert area remained dry.

"They were very kind to listen to me and my request," Murphy said. "They said they'd have to show some engineers our plan."

If that plan does not work, Brandt offered to work with the town to come up with an alternative way to hold the Barge Bash, such as having barges that move by wheels or feet on the towpath, Murphy said.

Event organizers are not very interested in that idea, he said.

"The whole uniqueness of this festival was that there are boats in the water, so there probably isn't much of a fallback plan," Murphy said. "If there's no water in the canal, there probably won't be a barge bash."

As a member of the Hancock Arts Council, which took over sponsoring the Barge Bash last year, Murphy is chairman of this year's event.

The culvert work will go out to bid this month, and Brandt is hoping work will start in June. Repairs will take eight to nine months, he said.

A 300-foot to 400-foot section of the towpath will be redirected onto Berm Road during the repair work, Brandt said. Part of the path sunk a foot or so because of the failing culvert, he said.

Brandt said the section of the canal that will remain dry goes from near the U.S. 522 bridge to near the Lockhouse Restaurant at 11 E. Main St.

Brandt said the park's deputy superintendent, Brian Carlstrom, will attend the Hancock mayor and Town Council meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall to share information about the canal project.

Staff writer Heather Keels contributed to this story.

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