Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/423

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419
THE TYPE OF THE PANAMA CANAL

mended the acquisition by the United States of the rights and properties of the New Panama Canal Company. This recommendation was the direct result of an offer of the canal company to sell all its rights and properties for the sum of $40,000,000. The actual transfer of the canal properties to the United States took place on May 1, 1904.

The great engineering question before the commission, above named, related to the type of canal. Should the canal be built at sea-level or should it cross the backbone of the isthmus at the elevation suggested by the investigating commission of 1899-1901, and apparently contemplated by the Spooner act, with a summit level at 85 feet, or should it be a lock canal with some other elevation of its summit section? This question and the administration's course in setting aside the recommendation of a majority of the board of consulting engineers and adopting the plan of a lock-canal with a summit at the elevation suggested by the commission of 1899 and advocated by the minority members of the board of engineers are still fruitful of discussion.

A review of the proceedings leading to the solution, and a presentation of some of the physical features of the problem, as disclosed by the proceedings, may prove an aid to a better understanding of the present situation.

Relating to the kind of canal to be constructed the law provides:

The President shall then, through the Isthmian Canal Commission. . . cause to be excavated, constructed and completed, utilizing to that end, as far as practicable, the work heretofore done by the New Panama Canal Company, of France, and its predecessor company, a ship canal from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Such canal shall be of sufficient capacity and depth as shall afford convenient passage for vessels of the largest tonnage and greatest draft now in use, and such as may reasonably be anticipated, and shall be supplied with all necessary locks and other appliances to meet the necessities of vessels passing through the same from ocean to ocean. . . .

It was recognized by the commission of 1904 that under the Spooner act as quoted, a departure, to some extent at least, from the project which the earlier commission had outlined as a basis for comparative cost estimates was authorized and proper. It was incumbent upon the commission to determine whether a canal with summit level at 80 or 60 or 30 feet would not, all things considered, be better than the canal with summit level at 85 feet. It was therefore necessary to regard the entire question of type of canal an open one to be solved by the selection of that type and that summit elevation which would best fulfill all requirements. It was realized that this question required careful consideration from every standpoint, particularly in relation to its serviceability, to time required for construction, to first cost and to the cost of operation and maintenance with due regard to the importance of early completion, and reliability of service after completion.

In entering upon a preliminary discussion of these matters the lack