FOR A SEA-LEVEL CANAL.
W. Henry Hunter, chief engineer of the Manchester, England, ship canal, and one of the foreign engineers engaged by President Roosevelt to investigate the Panama canal project, has written a letter to Senator Kittredge, saying that, after reading the report presented by the minority of the board of consulting engineers, he is confirmed in the opinion he had formed in favor of the construction of a sea-level canal. “The paramount consideration in the discussion as to the type of Panama canal (said Mr. Hunter) should be the provision of a waterway, which, so far as human effort can secure such a result, will be absolutely safe as to navigation, and, therefore, shall not include any inherent features which maymake for disaster to vessels in transit and for the destruction of the works, when completed. He says it is impossible to deny that the employment of locks of great size, particularly of lifts of height beyond all precedent in engineering practice, will mean that the canal will be incumbered by obstructions which can neither be avoided nor removed, and will put every battleship and every large commercial vessel into peril on each occasion upon which any such vessel will traverse the isthmian waterway.” Mr. Hunter views at length accidents of daily occurrence in lock canals, and the collisions in the Manchester ship canal resulting in the destruction and carrying away of gates. In nearly all the accidents it was shown that they arose from causes impossible to guard against. So far as the double locks proposed by the minority are concerned, Mr. Hunter says the probability is that the result “would be that not only two pairs of gates would be wrecked instead of one, hut that the vessel herself would be sunk in the lock.” He says it is on the experience he has had that he bases his opinion that, in the case of the immense locks proposed by the minority of the board of consulting engineers, “if the gates are carried away by a downward-bound vessel no power on earth can stop the rush of water; that the velocity of the stream through the lock will be such that any vessel will be carried on thereby, and that, if the occurrence takes place in the flight of locks proposed at Gatun, the vessel will be plunged from step to step to destruction, while the group of locks will probably be wholly wrecked and the canal rendered inoperative.” Concerning the Gatun dam proposed by the minority, Mr. Hunter says he is convinced it can be built safely, with an effective cut-off to arrest percolation and stop erosion. The advantages of the so-called lake navigation, provided by the lock plan, are characterised by Mr. Hunter as “largely sentimental or imaginary,” and he says a real danger will exist from the effects of the severe storms of wind which sweep down suddenly from the Caribbean sea. He closes his letter as follows: “It cannot be denied that a lock-canal, of whatever type, could be constructed at less cost in money than a sea-level canal; but, when the estimates of cost contained in the report of the board and in the minority report are compared. and when to the latter are added the additional costs required for removing the kinks from the line of the channel through the Gatun lake, increasing the locks to the dimensions called for by the Spooner act, for adding cut-offs and corewalls to the dams, for clearing tropical growth from the areas to be submerged, the difference between the two projects will be reduced to a capital sum, which will be insignificant, when compared with the relative advantages and disadvantages of the projects.” The House of Representatives is in his favor (as is President Roosevelt in opposition to the Senate and many experts).