Should maintaining the Lehigh Canal as an historical entity be more important than providing a fresh water supply to three communities?
While that question was never asked or answered, it hung in the air during the monthly meeting of the Lehigh Canal Recreation Commission (LCRC) on Thursday night. The meeting was held at attorney William Schwab's office in Mahoning Township.
Attending the meeting were LCRC members; members of Ebenezer Church, Weissport; members of the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Corridor (DLHC); and volunteers.
While H. Scott Everett, stewardship and trail manager for the DLHC, believes that a hydrological study of the Lehigh Canal should be done from Jim Thorpe to Easton, the truth of the matter is there isn't funding available or time to wait.
For Armand Galasso of the Lehighton Water Authority, his concern is the 1/2-mile of water main that provides water for Franklin Township, Lehighton and Weissport residents.
With Galasso and Everett making most of the comments, the issue centered on whether Lehighton Water Authority should replace the canal berm in the towpath to make the towpath more resistant to washouts, which would provide support for the water main and save the water mains from future destruction.
In the middle of the issue is LWA securing a permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that would give the authority permission to make emergency repairs before another major flooding event occurs.
"This is a big problem," said Galasso. "The flooding makes everything worse. The area between Jim Thorpe and Weissport is a big problem. If repairs do not happen soon we'll be doomed."
Galasso said LWA already spent $40,000 to save an 80-foot section of water main.
He said the LWA had major problems in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan brought a high water event, and then again in 2006 when an unnamed storm nearly caused the LWA to lose service.
"If we would have lost the line, Franklin Township, Lehighton and Weissport would be without water," said Galasso.
Galasso said that he is hoping to meet with DEP next week and secure an emergency permit to make repairs.
Galasso noted that the problem is that when the Lehigh Canal towpath was graded to become a walking trail, there were not enough provisions made for safe overflows. He said that Lock 7 cannot release enough water. He said in this last event there was a 300-foot section where the water topped over the canal.
"I'm proposing to put in a berm in the towpath," said Galasso. "We would have to put in a coffer dam to temporarily hold back the water. That is the plan that I plan to discuss with DEP. That is the best plan to stop the flooding."
The most recent high water event took place on March 10 and 11, when heavy rain and melting snow combined to raise the water level in the area and produced heavy damage to the Lehigh Canal towpath.
"The area has been compromised for decades," said Everett. "The major impact is downstream."
Everett said that last year in Easton they had drawn down the water in the canal and that was the worst thing they could have done.
"They learned that lowering the water exposed the towpath to more damage," he said. "They are learning from experience."
Galasso said that LWA has already graded the road to eliminate more damage and requested to have a location where LWA could stockpile fill to have it close at hand for repairs.
LCRC members give Galasso permission to stock pile fill at Lock 7.
"We've already used 150 tones of fill at the washout," said Galasso. "We could get there a lot quicker if there was a stockpile for the next event."
Everett also noted that the banks should be planted with high grasses that would support the area with their root system.
There was also major washouts between Lock 5 and 6 and at the observation deck during the March 10 and 11 high water event.
Everett said that the DLHC is concerned about maintaining the historical significance of the towpath.
"Historically it's a difficult fix," said Everett. "In some areas there is a clay liner, but in most areas that was taken out."
Everett asked to be informed about the DEP meeting.