Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Panama and Nicaragua not the only routes for canal

A. Hyatt Verrill lived in NYC during the 1920's and 1930's, when he was not 'in the jungle'. Alan Schenker has come across a number of articles and letters to NY Times. These do give one a sense of the star status that Verrill had during this period.

Panama and Nicaragua not the only routes for canal.

One Across Darien Believed to Be Practicable And Serious Consideration Should Be Given to Colombia

A. Hyatt Verrill,

New York Times; Apr 8, 1928. Researched by Alan Schenker, digitized by Doug Frizzle, Sept. 2011.

To the Editor of 'The New York Times:

As one familiar with the countries and conditions, and having lived for many years on the Canal Zone, I have been deeply interested in the controversy and the discussions regarding a new Nicaraguan canal versus alterations in the present Panama Canal.

In the first place, it seems to me that in all the opinions I have seen the main point of the question of increasing the capacity of the present canal has been completely overlooked. It seems to be a generally accepted idea that the present canal's capacity could be greatly increased by operating it for twenty-four hours a day, and that its capacity could be more than doubled by adding more locks, or by converting it to a sea-level canal.

During the rainy season—from May until December—the canal could be operated day and night, or enlarged locks could be built, which would double the capacity. But during the dry season the question of water is a most vital one. Even now the level of Gatun Lake is often so low as to leave little margin of safety, and not infrequently the water must be drawn from one lock chamber to another, or one set of chambers shut off, in order to conserve the water in the canal. This shortage will be partially overcome when the proposed Alajuela dam on the upper Chagres River is completed. But, were the number of locks increased and the canal widened, there would not be a sufficient water supply to operate them unless the present height of Gatun Dam was increased.

A Costly Operation.

This would not only be vastly expensive, but would necessitate building many smaller dams or "saddles" in various low spots over a wide area, and in addition it would mean flooding a wide extent of country with all the attendant expenses. It is doubtful if to do this would not cost more than to build an entirely new canal. Those who advocate transforming the present canal to a sea-level route overlook several very important matters.

In the first place, the entire hydroelectric system of the Canal Zone would have to be scrapped and rebuilt, with new dams, reservoirs. &c. for at the present time this is dependent upon the power from Gatun Lake. Moreover, it would necessitate dredging the canal for a depth of approximately eighty feet below its present depth, not only across the whole of Gatun Lake, but also through Gaillard Culebra Cut.

To do this without cutting away the hills on both sides would be to invite disastrous slides, the removal of which, or rather the constant operation of dredges in the cut, annually costs a sum that would go far toward the construction of a new canal.

Finally, I cannot understand how it would be possible to keep the canal open while it was undergoing alterations to transform it to a sea-level canal, for the dredging operations in Gaillard Cut, if carried on for this purpose, would completely block transit, not to mention the problem that would be presented when it came to destroying Gatun Lock and dam and draining the lake after the new sea-level channel was completed.

Do Volcanoes "Wane"?

Referring to the question of the Nicaraguan route, we are faced with the question of the volcanoes. Although it is claimed that these are no great danger and are "waning." can any one definitely say that any volcano, and more especially an active one, is waning or that it is not the gravest danger imaginable? Mount Pelee, in Martinique, had not only been "waning," but apparently dead for over a century, and yet it proved dangerous and devastating. Suppose such an eruption took place in a canal thronged with shipping and with thousands of men and women within eight or ten miles of the volcano? An eruption that would destroy shipping or the canal might, it is true, never occur; but, on the other hand, it might happen at any moment. Is it wise to invest half a billion or more in an enterprise which might, at any moment, be utterly ruined, not to mention the less of life and property? And would any one feel safe and secure when navigating waters within a few miles of an active volcano?

Finally, it is a well-known fact that the western slopes of Nicaragua are cut by many great fissures and faults, and several eminent authorities have declared that if a canal were cut through this section the entire waters of the canal would vanish into the earth through one of these cracks.

Meanwhile, every one interested appears to have quite overlooked other and more practicable routes for an interoceanic canal. The route across Darien from the Caribbean to the Gulf of San Miguel is the shortest route of all, and was seriously considered when we took over the job of building a canal through Panama. Here navigable waters reach to within some twenty-odd miles of the Caribbean, and in this district there are no volcanoes, few earthquakes and no great engineering obstacles. Moreover, it is in the territory of Panama and hence no treaty nor political difficulties would crop up.

Still another feasible and advantageous route is that through Colombia. This would follow the Atrato River for a greater part of the entire distance across to the Pacific and would present no serious obstacles. Practically the only cutting would be a tunnel less than ten miles in length, and, while the idea of a tunnel large enough to accommodate big ships may seem appalling to some, we must not forget that Gaillard Cut is nothing but a huge tunnel minus a top and that to cut such a tunnel is no more expensive, under present engineering conditions, than it was to make an open cut of the same size a dozen, or fifteen years ago.

Finally, either of these routes would result in opening up and developing extremely rich and fertile areas of land, and would go far toward paying for itself through the returns from freights, charges and other receipts which would result from the exploitation and development of the adjacent country.

A canal in either of these districts would be not only a short cut from ocean to ocean, but a highway of commerce and industry and an outlet and feeder for thousands of square miles of country rich in natural resources, in opportunities for agriculture, lumbering, fruit-growing and innumerable other industries. Roads and railways would soon be built from interior points to such a canal, whereas the present Panama Canal, or even a Nicaragua canal, would of necessity remain primarily nothing more than a canal and not a commercial nor industrial project.

A. Hyatt Verrill,

New York, April 2, 1928.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.