Eclipse of Reason: Crescent and the Corps Must Reach a Locks
21 May 2012
Crescent Township, which got its name from being spun off from
Moon Township long ago, is a small community that prides itself on
its hometown feel. Its history owes much to its location on the
Ohio River as the site of early boat building.
Now it finds itself at the center of a depressing dispute with the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers involving the very river that was a
reason for its founding. Both sides feel wronged -- and their
problem is Western Pennsylvania's problem, so vital are the
Crescent Township is home to the Dashields Lock, which like many
old locks and dams in this area, needs repairs to keep
The Corps had scraped up $3.1 million, no easy task in today's
fiscal climate, to stabilize a lock wall so it won't collapse into
the river. The project has already been delayed a year and the
Corps says that if it is not done it will be left on the hook for
hundreds of thousands of dollars to compensate the contractor.
But the Corps and Crescent can't agree on a plan to fix a
rain-damaged township road that leads to the lock and Shouse Park
(as it happens, named for a pioneer boat builder). The Corps is
prepared to take over the road and repair it at a cost of at least
$250,000, leaving Crescent obligated only to clear the road of
snow in the winter.
It would seem a good deal for a 2.3-square-mile township with an
annual budget of only $1.6 million. But the Corps wants permission
to close the park for unspecified lengths of time and use it as a
staging area during rehabilitation of the lock.
That is too much for township officials, who don't want to lose
their park for months on end and who complain of being yanked
around by the Corps' changing positions over months of
negotiations. (As proof, they cite a memorandum of understanding
between the parties last December that they say would have solved
the problem). Last Tuesday, Crescent's board of commissioners
unanimously voted down the Corps' latest offer.
Corps spokesman Jeff Hawk told the Post-Gazette, "We're beyond
frustrated to stunned. We're done unless they make some
extraordinary gesture." Township solicitor Richard F. Start
replied: "If he is stunned and shocked, his stun and shock pales
compared with ours."
It would test King Solomon to determine who is being more
difficult. But basic principles can be a guide to how it should be
viewed. Locks and dams are vital to the continuing prosperity of
this region. Small communities have an obligation to their
neighbors to do what they can to help (although to be fair to
Crescent, its officials say they have tried).
As we have long complained, it is ridiculous that Allegheny County
has 130 municipalities and that many of them go their own way,
independent of the greater good. For one small community to have,
in effect, veto power over an urgently needed project is as absurd
as a mouse stopping the progress of an elephant. This episode
bolsters the argument for metropolitan government.
To be sure, the park is a legitimate concern for the township, but
then so should be the repair of a piece of infrastructure vital to
the whole region. If river traffic stops, hundreds of jobs stop
Besides, the Corps may not have a need to close the park for 20
years, if at all, depending on when the lock faces reconstruction.
The final absurdity is that the park, due to the damaged road, has
been closed for a year anyway.
Both parties -- the township that prides itself on its hometown
feel and the government agency proud of its work -- have a motive
for making an extraordinary gesture. Both need to give a little to
gain a lot for everybody.