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Vision For Canal Faces Costly Lock Repairs

By Katie PearceCurrent 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.