This week, City of Bethlehem crews began fixing a leak to the Lehigh Canal aqueduct on Sand Island which carries canal water over the Monocacy Creek. The 40-year-old aqueduct which is about 75-feet in length was damaged by the late October snowstorm. Three months later the city considers it an emergency repair after the state issued an emergency permit to do the work because excess water was flowing into the Monocacy and the water level in the canal had significantly decreased which could lead to dried-up areas.
Allentown has slowed water releases into the canal until the leak is fixed. A sand-bag dam is stopping water from entering the aqueduct, and a PVC pipe is carrying some of the water across the aqueduct and into the canal east of the creek. The cost of the repairs and the time table of the project are unknown.
Sand Island is a public park, owned by the City of Bethlehem. It is a beautiful place, nestled between the Lehigh River and the Lehigh Canal. There are plenty of recreational activities available here. There’s a children’s playground, the Ice House (a recreation and performing arts center), tennis courts, basketball courts, walking paths and a boat ramp on the river. The towpath trail (now part of the D&L Trail) is used by joggers, walkers and bike riders and there are fishing opportunities in the river, the canal and in the Monocacy Creek. It is a real jewel in the heart of Bethlehem.
In recent years, volunteers and supporters, including D&L Trail Tenders have worked on the towpath, repairing its flood-damaged banks and weeding out invasive plants that have crowded out native plants.
The City of Bethlehem claims it is committed to improving the quality of life for its residents and that their Parks and Recreation system is an important component of that long-range plan. Shamefully over the years, the city has pretty much neglected the towpath and the canal. Only when an emergency occurs, as is now the case with the leaking aqueduct is work done. The 180 year-old towpath trail has seen increased activity the past few years by city residents and visitors since it has become part of the popular D&L Trail. Weeds and plants between the canal and the towpath grow wild and the grass on both sides of the towpath is rarely cut. By late summer, tree branches and vines overhang the towpath west of Sand Island going towards Allentown. Garbage is constantly in the water and algae growth on the canal by late summer is smelly and hideous looking.
Downed trees in the canal have always collected debris, but since the recent storms of last year, downed trees across the canal have been ever-enlarging catch basins for garbage. When a tree falls across the towpath it is cut only to clear the trail. Any part of the tree on either side of the trail will remain there. Lock # 41 (the 16th Ave. Lock) and the area around it is littered with downed trees and garbage. There is constant garbage and muck at Lock #42 near where the aqueduct leak is being fixed.
Also, the high bank between the Monocacy Creek and the Lehigh River has severely eroded away leaving mounds of dirt and downed trees strewn into the creek. It is a disaster waiting to happen. If this problem is not remedied soon the city will be making another very expensive emergency repair.
The city had a great opportunity to clean out the canal, when a breach occurred near the Allentown-Bethlehem border in October of 2009 and the canal ran dry. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Now they have another opportunity again with reduced water in the canal.
We all know money is tight and the city is pretty much broke for various reasons. Plus, the canal doesn’t generate money like what’s going on over on the other side of the river, but the residents and visitors to the Christmas City deserve better, especially from a city promoting itself as a tourist destination.