Georgetown Current

Vision For Canal Faces Costly Lock Repairs

June 3, 2015

By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer

There’s a big vision in Georgetown for reactivating the neighborhood’s portion of the C&O Canal — and the city’s now pitching in money for that goal — but two major repair projects could stand in the way.

Significant work is needed on the canal’s Lock 3 and Lock 4, which could require the historic canal to be drained in Georgetown for as long as a year and a half.

Lock 3, located between 30th and Thomas Jefferson streets, will need to be rebuilt entirely, costing an estimated $5.5 million, according to the National Park Service. Meanwhile, Lock 4, one block west, requires significant stabilization work at an estimated $1 million.

The Park Service currently doesn’t have funding for either project, according to C&O Canal superintendent Kevin Brandt — but he noted that both are necessary to achieve the community’s goal to restore and enhance canal operations. “Both of these locks would need to be functional and working,” he said.

The community vision comes from the Georgetown Business Improvement District, which is working to raise funds for a series of recreational and educational enhancements for the C&O Canal.

One specific goal of this developing master plan is to build a new canal boat to replace “The Georgetown,” which was removed from service in 2012. The boat, which carried visitors up and down the canal for decades, replicated mule-drawn barges that hauled freight from Cumberland, Md., to Washington during the industrial era.

For that effort and others, the Georgetown business group, through its “Georgetown Heritage” arm, is hoping to raise $3 million in private money from individuals and foundations. That would roughly match the amount just designated for the C&O Canal in the city’s budget for fiscal year 2016, which the D.C. Council approved last week.

Maggie Downing, destination manager for the Georgetown BID, said her group is waiting for more specifics on where exactly the city’s money would go.

They’re also waiting on the National Park Service for more information on the repair schedule for Locks 3 and 4. Like Brandt, Downing emphasized that any community or city planning for the Georgetown portion of the C&O Canal is incumbent upon those projects.

The ideal scenario, she said, is that community planning efforts will “coincide” with the federal agency’s work — and also that Locks 3 and 4 can be repaired simultaneously, so the canal drainage can be as short as possible.

Brandt of the Park Service said drying out the canal would be necessary mostly for the safety of the workers reconstructing the Georgetown locks. He said the drainage would probably impact the area of the canal between Foundry Branch and Lock 1, but would leave Fletcher’s Cove operational. It’s been estimated that the drainage could last between 12 and 18 months.

But these and other details of the projects are far from concrete, Brandt emphasized, due to the current lack of funding. He said the Park Service has “a large deferred maintenance backlog, but these are two of the projects that are very important to us,” adding, “We’re hopeful that one or another funding source may come through.”

Once money is secured, design work for the projects would take about a year, then the repair work itself would take another 18 months, Brandt estimated.

In the meantime, one smaller aspect of the community’s vision is expected to move forward soon: The Park Service plans to install a temporary dock area roughly where the canal meets 34th Street, from which visitors will be able to launch their own canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. Brandt said that project should take place “before we get into summer too much more.”

Downing of the Georgetown BID said the structure is a temporary version of a more permanent dock fixture that would be installed in the future at another location along the canal.

This article appears in the June 3 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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‘Green Infrastructure’ to Reduce Tunnel Plans

May 27, 2015

By Cuneyt Dil
Current Correspondent

D.C. has a new solution for stormwater runoff and the area’s polluted waterways: hundreds of acres of new green roofs, rain gardens, tree boxes, porous asphalt and other eco-friendly measures, collectively known as “green infrastructure.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser and officials from the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (known as DC Water), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Justice Department joined together last week on top of the Fort Reno Reservoir, in front of an acre of green roof plants and pervious pavement, to announce the city’s new plan to combat sewage overflow.

Instead of building new tunnels in Rock Creek and alongside the Georgetown waterfront, a swath of water-capturing green infrastructure similar to what is used at Fort Reno will be constructed from Howard University to Takoma, and also around Burleith and Georgetown. In total, the plan envisions enough green infrastructure in these areas to offset the amount of runoff that results from 1.2 inches of rain falling on 500 impervious acres.

The plan still relies on “gray infrastructure,” with the planned construction of a 30-million-gallon tunnel along the Potomac River, which will run south to connect with the under-construction Anacostia River Tunnel System and end up at the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

But with the new green infrastructure, that tunnel will need to hold 18 million gallons less wastewater than the originally planned version running from the Kennedy Center to the Key Bridge, which would have had the capacity to store 58 million gallons. And authorities are entirely discarding the original plan for a new sewage tunnel to divert wastewater from Piney Branch in Rock Creek.

The announcement of the new plan, on May 20, comes after the District was able to modify the $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project, a 2005 agreement with federal authorities that mandated that the city improve its waterways. Reducing the amount of untreated sewage that ends up in rivers after heavy rains is a large portion of the agency’s commitment. Hawkins said the modified plan will achieve equal or better results as the previous tunnel plan, in addition to creating environmental benefits from the added greenery in the city.

Under the District’s combined sewer system — which was constructed in the late 19th century and continues to serve much of the city — sanitary sewage and stormwater go into the same pipes. With heavy rain, runoff water collects trash and debris from streets and ends up in the sewers at a faster rate than the system can handle. The stormwater, mixed with sewage, then ends up spilling into the river or flooding streets.

With the alternative solution, green roofs and permeable pavements will catch the rain before it runs off, saving the sewer system from having to hold excess wastewater.

“Just earlier this week we had two and a half inches of rain in a 12-hour period that went flooding throughout the city,” DC Water general manager George Hawkins said at the plan’s announcement.

Bowser is on board with the revised plan after reaching an agreement with Hawkins for hiring city residents to fill over half of the new jobs created by the green infrastructure project.

“We know this is an innovative step; it is a bold step,” said Bowser. “It is also not an easy step, but it is one we will put all of our minds to and get D.C. residents back to work.”

John Cruden, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, praised city leaders for the environmental and employment opportunities the deal is meant to create.

“What you’re seeing here today puts the District of Columbia in a leadership role in green infrastructure in the nation,” Cruden said. “It is true you can have environmental progress, and you can grow middle-class values, … but it requires the kind of leadership you’re seeing today.”

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Peabody Sculpture Added to Library

May 20, 2015

By Mark Lieberman
Current Correspondent

Eight years ago, construction workers using a heat gun on exterior wood accidentally started a fire that destroyed the entire Georgetown Library building.

It took three years and $16 million to reconstruct the building. Now five more years have passed, and to celebrate the anniversary of its reopening, the library is unveiling a new bust in its historic Peabody Room.

Jerry McCoy, the special collections librarian at the library, has been hoping to add a bust of George Peabody — who donated money to found the library — to the collection since the reopening five years ago.

“I just thought having a portrait bust for the Peabody Room would just add classy on top of classy that was already embodied by the new Peabody Room when we reopened in 2010,” McCoy said. “It’s just an amazing collection.”

McCoy spent that time searching for a bust on eBay and in antique shops. In the fall of 2013, he mentioned his search to an acquaintance, who suggested Jeannette Murphy.

Murphy majored in painting at George Washington University before spending her career working at the World Bank. Once she retired, she headed back to her alma mater to audit art classes and eventually developed an interest in sculpture. She gladly took McCoy up on his proposal.

“He said he had no funds for a project like that but he would try to find some,” Murphy said.

Murphy worked on the bust from an old photograph of Peabody intermittently for three weeks before putting it in the kiln. When Murphy contacted McCoy last fall to let him know that the bust was done, he said he still hadn’t come up with funding.  Murphy offered to donate the bust to the library instead.

“I thought, ‘I’ve learned so much about Mr. Peabody, a very generous soul himself,’” Murphy said.

The bust will be unveiled in the Peabody Room this Saturday at an event that will honor the space’s history. It’s named after George Peabody, who left $15,000 for the Georgetown neighborhood to open its own branch of the D.C. Public Library, which it did in 1935.

To thank Peabody for his contribution, the library administration named a room after him, filling it with documentation of Georgetown history. McCoy thinks the impulse to preserve the past was new for that time period.

“The very fact of that always amazes me,” McCoy said. “This was 1935. There was no such thing as a concept of historic preservation then. These Georgetown families were very proud of their neighborhood and their history.”

McCoy thinks of the room as a makeshift historical society for Georgetown, which doesn’t have an official one of its own.

The original space was on the second floor of the library building, but after the reconstruction, the Peabody Room ended up in the attic. McCoy recognizes the irony.

“We always tell people to preserve their family materials, don’t put them in the basement or the attic,” McCoy said. “And here the Peabody Room is in the attic.”

The room has undergone renovations in the years since the reopening. Air conditioning keeps the temperature consistent. Security cameras keep watch over the historic artifacts. But McCoy says the room’s modernity is hidden well.

“When you walk in, even though it looks old, it’s all 2010 construction,” McCoy said.

On Saturday at 2 p.m., visitors can expect a small celebration that pays tribute to Peabody and showcases the Peabody Room and its contents.

“It’s just going to be a fun little event,” McCoy said. “We’ll have the unveiling and cut some birthday cake.”

This article appears in the May 20 article in The Georgetown Current newspaper.

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