Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Grand Reopening" Celebration for Delaware Canal Overlooks New Hope Problems

By Charlie Sahner

The public was invited to the party today in Easton, PA celebrating the "grand reopening" of the Delaware Canal and adjacent towpath following repairs necessitated by three devastating floods on the nearby Delaware River from 2004-2006. The organizers, a mixture of private groups and state bigwigs, mention in their publicity efforts that it's really the towpath part that's open from Easton to Bristol, PA...they'll fill it all up with water later.

But what exactly is a towpath without a canal? If it's smack in the middle of the #1 tourist destination in Bucks County, one might call it a fiasco for the residents, visitors, merchants and wildlife of New Hope.

Of course, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) confirmed on July 9 that they will not have the the New Hope portion of the Delaware Canal repaired and refilled this summer. A spokesperson for the DCNR said the problem was funding. "It won't be until at least the fall until we can start," she said. "The money is not in place at this point."

But interviews with several individuals familiar with the DCNR and construction say bureaucratic indecision and a lack of a cohesive, strategic approach to the entire New Hope canal section is to blame. "They just don't know what to do in Harrisburg," said one individual who asked not to be identified. "They can't make a decision, they're over their heads and don't know what to do."

Another person familiar with masonry and plumbing who asked to remain anonymous said that the biggest problem areas could be lined with dark green plastic, which would be virtually unnoticeable once the canal is refilled with water.

But could a plastic liner last a year or two to allow time for more enduring restoration work during the off season?

"Hell," said another individual familar with the situation who asked not to be identified. "It could last three, four years, or more."

So, if the state doesn't have funding in place to repair one of the busiest sections of the Delaware Canal and truly complete the project, why not? Is the DCNR official in charge unable to get the job done, or is New Hope just a low priority for the Harrisburg department?

We may never know.

Meanwhile, sporadic work continues almost daily at different points along the aging canal walls, mostly repointing the masonry and moving dirt around. The activity has a distinctly piecemeal appearance to the casual observer. Ducks and geese sit in hot, caked mud waiting for relief; the giant lock at the southern end looks frozen and forlorn.

There will be "no joy in Mudville" today, and no celebration anytime soon in New Hope for a water filled, functioning canal.

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