Editorial: Tear down this dam and save young lives

A me­mori­al: Flowers and candles are left on the foot­bridge over the Pennypack Creek where Brandon Boyle lost his life when he jumped in­to the pool be­low.

 Last Thursday af­ter­noon, when the mer­cury rose to 97 de­grees, the pool of wa­ter above the dam in the Pennypack Creek in Bustleton re­mained in­vit­ing but un­broken.

Three boys waded in the wa­ter down­stream from the “boulevard dam” and a girl sat on rocks nearby and gazed at the wa­ter­fall, but no one swam in the pool above the dam or used the foot­bridge span­ning the creek as a diving board.

The dam is one of only two left on the Pennypack and no longer serves any pur­pose. In­stead, the four-foot-high stone and ma­sonry bar­ri­er cre­ates the lovely falls and the swim­ming hole — and a tempta­tion too dif­fi­cult for young people to ig­nore.

It’s time to re­move that tempta­tion be­fore an­oth­er life is lost. We’ve re­por­ted that five young people have been killed or im­periled at the spot over the last three years.

  Enough is enough.

  The most re­cent cas­u­alty oc­curred Ju­ly 1 when a Bell’s Corner boy, 13-year-old Brandon Boyle, flew from the bridge and in­to the rain-swollen creek. His broth­er, An­thony, 11, also jumped in­to the wa­ter, and had to be res­cued. Brandon’s body was found along the banks on Ju­ly 4.

  His death was the second tragedy at the bridge in re­cent memory. Saul­i­us Kvara­ciejus, 20, tried to ride an in­flat­able pool over the dam in Ju­ly 2010, but dis­ap­peared from view. Both fatal­it­ies oc­curred after storms when the creek be­comes a tor­rent of wa­ter and a stew of debris.

Trouble was aver­ted earli­er this sum­mer when po­lice res­cued two young people who had been swim­ming in the creek.

Al­though no swim­ming is al­lowed, and pub­lic swim­ming pools are open, it is hard for kids to ig­nore the  idyll­ic Nor­man Rock­well-like set­ting on a hot sum­mer day.

  As Brandon’s uncle, Mi­chael Boyle, told the North­east Times , “Kids swim in creeks. That’s what they do. But that bridge is al­most an in­vit­a­tion … and kids are fear­less.”

  The dam, like oth­ers along the creek, had once been vi­tal to the eco­nomy of the re­gion. It cre­ated a pool of wa­ter above the bar­ri­er, and that wa­ter was rerouted to serve a fact­ory or mill along the wa­ter­way.

  To get something done, we ap­proached City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill about the pos­sib­il­ity of tear­ing down the dam, and re­mov­ing the lure of the swim­ming hole. His re­con­figured dis­trict will soon in­clude this sec­tion of the city, and he said he def­in­itely would sup­port re­mov­al of the dam.

Check­ing fur­ther, with Joanne Dahme of the city’s Wa­ter De­part­ment, we learned that re­mov­ing the dam wouldn’t be simple or cheap. She said the re­mov­al of Hunt­ing­don Dam on the Pennypack in Mont­gomery County cost about $100,000 in 2007, and es­tim­ated a sim­il­ar cost to this dam.

  The site is about a 10-minute walk down a paved path off Winchester Av­en­ue at Wood­ward Street. Heavy equip­ment would have to be brought in, a tem­por­ary road built, en­gin­eer­ing stud­ies done. Add in per­mit costs, dredging, sed­i­ment re­mov­al and more. The list goes on.

  It would re­quire co­oper­a­tion among the city Parks and Re­cre­ation and Wa­ter de­part­ments as well as the state De­part­ment of En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion and the U.S. Army Corps of En­gin­eers.

  An­oth­er, more cost-ef­fect­ive solu­tion could be cut­ting a sluice in the dam to keep the pool from build­ing. That would have the ad­ded be­ne­fit of al­low­ing hick­ory shad and river her­ring to swim up­stream.

  And there is a third, even less costly solu­tion. The city could in­stall a roun­ded, ca­gelike fence atop the bridge, like those found on bi­cycle paths over busy high­ways. That would pre­vent people from jump­ing from the bridge.

The very first thing that should be done is to re­move the dozen or so wooden planks that cre­ate a quick path up a tree on the far bank. The branches ex­tend over the wa­ter and cre­ate a clear shot over the swim­ming hole.

  Today, the foot­bridge has be­come a small shrine to the life of young Brandon Boyle. Eight votive candles and a dozen sprays of flowers line one side. A sign pays trib­ute and a black Sharpie mark­er in­vites vis­it­ors to leave mes­sages.

  “RIP Brandon,” “Fly high” and “Do not swim” are re­mind­ers that a young boy made a bad de­cision and it cost him his life.

  It’s up to us, the grownups, to say that not one more life will be taken or im­periled. We have many good ways to make this tempta­tion dis­ap­pear. Let’s not lose this op­por­tun­ity to save fear­less kids from them­selves. Who will join in? ••

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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