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UPI Archives
Monday, Jan. 25, 1909

Taft off for Panama to find out how canal should be built

CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 25, 1909 (UP) -- With the ship bands playing and crowds cheering, President-elect Taft and party sailed for Panama early Monday abroad the cruiser North Carolina.

Mrs. Taft accompanied her husband.

The Montana, acting as convoy, was boarded by the newspaper men and sailed from port 10 minutes ahead of the North Carolina.

Taft declared that he was going to Panama with his mind open to conviction as to whether the sea level or lock and dam plan is the best to be followed in the completion of the canal.

This will be his big point for investigation while on the isthmus.

Fred C. Stevens of Minnesota has just returned from Panama enthusiastically converted to the lock and dam plan.

"After a man has been has been down there ad looked into the matter," said Stevens, "this talk of a sea level canal seems like the most futile nonsense. I can't see how President-elect Taft and the engineers who are on the way to the canal zone with him can get away from the lock and dam canal.

"Why everybody down on the canal strip - and they are the finest equipped and most competent body of engineers and practical workmen ever got together - everybody from Col. Goethals down to the office boy and the man with the shovel is perfectly convinced that the lock and dam is the only kind of a canal to be built. And they know that this kind of canal can be completed by 1915.

"One who sees the conditions down there and realizes a few of the things which would be meant by undertaking a sea level canal is quick to decide on the folly of such an enterprise. One thing, for example. There is a big swamp along the edge of which the present survey of the canal goes. With a lock and dam canal built from present plans this swamp will become the bottom of a lake, but if a sea level canal were undertaken one of the first things to be done would be to grapple with this swamp, which is five miles long. It is at least 90 feet deep and is filled with muck, roots, vegetable matter, ooze and water.

"To handle it by machinery would be practically impossible. The engineers say that they could not wall against it, as they would have to go 90 feet for any bottom. They would have to dry up the swamp. They tell me it is humanly possible to dry up this swamp, but that it would take probably 20 years and something like $200,000,000 to do it.

"While grappling with the swamp they would have to make the Culebra Cut through solid rock many feet deeper than at present. Already the cut is 510 feet, or will be at its maximum point, right down through solid rock. Under a sea level plan the cut would have to go at least 650 feet. At present the rock is solid and holds on solid foundations, but what might happen if the cut were continued down this enormous distance the engineers will not undertake to say. They would rather not run the chance of a fissure and a slipping of the rock.

"And then there is the question of diversion of the rivers. Already it has been necessary to take one river and send it around one side of a hill while formerly it ran around the other. The cost of this was about $200,000 a mile. In case we constructed a sea level canal there would be 27 of these rivers to be diverted in order to keep the canal from sliding and keep the canal from silting and clogging, and the cost of diverting 27 rivers at the rate of $200,000 a mile may easily be guessed if not accurately estimated.

"President Roosevelt is not at all shaken in his belief that the lock and dam plan is the wise one. I have talked with him on the subject, and find that his sending the engineers with President-elect Taft is not inspired by any change of heart in his respect."

Copyright 2007 by United Press International.