Dredging plans for Manayunk Canal move forward

If nature had its way, the Manayunk Canal would eventually turn into wetlands. To keep that from happening, the city’s Department of Parks & Recreation will begin dredging the waterway in 2012.

At a public meeting this week, the department announced the project, which will be done with the assistance of the Philadelphia Water Department.

Pennoni Associates, Inc., an engineering firm, is working as a consultant. The main areas that will be dredged sit between Flat Rock Dam and Lock 68, and at two silt islands located downstream.

Joel Zickler, the staff scientist at Pennoni Associates, explained that this dredging project is more than 10 years in the making. There are a few different ways to remove the sedimentation, and the department has decided to hydraulically withdraw it, because, Zickler says, “it is a lower-impact method than mechanically dredging.”

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One attendant asked if the dredging project would allow the Canal to be used recreationally. Rob Armstrong, the Department’s preservation and development specialist, said that this is the ultimate goal, but that water flow must first be re-established in the Canal. Right now, the only thing feeding the canal is storm sewers. Eventually, Armstrong hopes that people will be able to take kayaks out on the Canal.

Another attendant was concerned about how the dredging project might affect birds that nest near the Canal. Zickler acknowledged that it was something that the contractors should keep in mind, but reminded the audience that part of the reason they’re dredging the Canal is to maintain the environmental health of that area.

“Where you might champion the bird, I might champion the fish,” said Zickler.

Armstrong added that if the dredging project somehow damages the Manayunk Towpath — which is being repaired this summer — then it would be promptly fixed. He said that the dredging will take about two months to complete, and should be finished by late 2012.

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