RIDGELEY -- There were more questions than answers as Ridgeley officials learned more about plans for the River Park at Canal Place, also being called the Passage of the Western Potomac Heritage Area.

By Ronda Wertman
Tribune Correspondent
RIDGELEY -- There were more questions than answers as Ridgeley officials learned more about plans for the River Park at Canal Place, also being called the Passage of the Western Potomac Heritage Area.
“We’re not even allowed to walk on the levee,” said Ridgeley mayor Mark Jones as Jim Christie, senior project manager for Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc., detailed the project to pose the Potomac River for recreation and development opportunities.
Beginning at Canal Place, the project would progress to the Blue Bridge in Ridgeley out to Carpendale, through the Knobley Tunnel trail and connect back to the C&O Canal.
Christie told the council, “For this project, the City of Cumberland will take ownership of the dam.”
“It’s about attracting families to the river,” he said, noting that the dam will be lowered to create whitewater features to provide for kayaks and tubing.
A feature of the river will be built off the abutments from the old bridge. Plans for the $15 million project also include moving George Washington’s Headquarters to create a parking area.
“There’s no historic reference to that piece of property,” assured Christie.
There will be American Disabilities Act compliant walkways, a wet lands area and water activities aimed at targeting those coming to ride the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad to stay and participate in other activities.
Christie maintains that the West Virginia side will provide opportunities for development, adding that the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources already has funding for “one put in and one take out” area on the river.
While the council and residents marveled at the design features of the project, the certification of the levee for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a concern that has loomed over the town in recent years.
Public works director Bobby Lambert, who has participated in meetings on the levee certification, questioned Christie how this project would be permitted on the levee, which has yet to be recertified.
“They (FEMA) want Ridgeley to pay. We’ve been told we have to certify the levee at a cost of $200,000 or pay higher flood insurance,” he said. “The City of Cumberland doesn’t want to help pay for it. When they certified one side, they should have done the other.
“We don’t even own the property, why should we have to pay for it?” Lambert asked. “We can’t afford to spend $200,000 to certify that levee. One certificate was to cover both sides, but FEMA doesn’t feel that way.”
The levee project started because Wills Creek runs into Ridgeley. Ridgeley had to pay $10,000 and Cumberland paid the rest.
“We don’t touch Wills Creek. It will always be a flood control project,” said Christie.
The certification problem was a new one for Christie as he told the council, “Nobody has ever brought it up before.”
“FEMA is telling Ridgeley that every person on the lower section has to have flood insurance,” said Lambert. “They’re saying the water can come on Ridgeley coming out of Carpendale.
“We’re concerned it’s going to make it worse,” he said. “No one wants to put it in writing that Cumberland is responsible for that levee.”
“That looks wonderful, but what worries me is high water,” agreed resident Ken Evans.
“This project isn’t a flood control project,” said Christie. “We’re only working in the basin and trails to get down to it. Your whole basin won’t look like it does now.”
Councilman Duke Lantz said, “The certification will all have to be figured out if the project gets underway.”
The actual work on the project will involve a mitigation banker and it was noted that mitigation banker may have to certify the levee.
“Ridgeley can say we support it (the project) as long as the levee is certified,” said Kevin Clark, director of the Mineral County Development Authority.
“Ridgeley lost a lot of land when this was put in,” recalled Evans of the levee as room for development was questioned.
“There’s ways that you can invite hospitality back,” said Christie. “They are always looking for unique character. There’s all kinds of opportunity.”
“We’re at least 20-30 years behind,” he added. “State parks are climbing; you can see the change in mentality. It’s a process, a long-term process.”
The timeline for the project includes a year for design and two years for the permitting process, making it three to five years before the first shovel of dirt is turned. Once the project is completed, it will be the responsibility of the mitigation banker for another eight to 10 years.
“It’s all in concept,” concluded Christie adding “There are all kinds of opportunities and that they are not all going to happen.”