Pennsylvania has terminated its agreement with the current operator of New Hope’s historic mule barge ride, and interest by new players in managing the concession appears to be gathering steam.
The Bureau of State Parks of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and National Resources (DCNR) on June 10 sent a notice of lease termination to George Fernandez, owner of New Hope Historic Canal Rides, a state official confirmed Monday.
The Bureau had told Fernandez to start operating the mule barge concession he owns along the historic Delaware Canal, and that “failure to do so by June 5, 2015 will result in no further renewal of the agreement by the Bureau in the future.”
New Hope Historic Canal Rides owner George Fernandez
Fernandez, who says he has not yet received the Bureau’s letter, believes the water pump helping to fill the Delaware Canal at Centre Bridge is overtaxed. “If that pump shuts off, the canal will be dry in two days. Forget about the barges stuck in the mud and three or four employees laid off — all the wildlife will die,” he said.
Fernandez also believes that the Mechanic Street canal bridge, under which the barges would pass, is in “serious disrepair.”
But he says his biggest concern is the “water gushing out of the canal 24/7.” Fernandez points to what he says are virtual underground rivers leaking from the canal and onward beneath Havana and other South Main Street businesses and residences.
“I take these things seriously,” he said. “I don’t want you pumping water out of your basement, and Mark [Stevens] and the owners of 137 S. Main St. are also adamant. Those leaks must be fixed now.”
A visit to the basement of Havana at 105 S. Main St. showed a couple of inches covering much of its surface, a broken sump pump making matters worse. Manager Mark Stevens said the basement was dry while the canal remained unfilled, and he had hoped it would stay that way once repairs were completed.
Basement of Havana
Fernandez believes that members of local groups like New Hope for Our Canal and Friends of the Delaware Canal are being self-serving in pushing for the mule barge rides to become operational, because the lease agreement calls for the concessionaire to assume the cost of pumping fresh water into the canal at that point. And he also feels squeezed out by Borough Hall and the Revitalization Committee of Borough Council.
“They are turning a blind eye, and intentionally pumping water that’s damaging to the walls, buildings and Main Street itself,” said Fernandez. “Lets do it right folks. Dam the canal up near Mechanic Street, run the barges from there north, then fix it up so we’ll have sustainable water from Lock 11 to Centre Bridge.”
Fernandez says his legal counsel has advised the DCNR that New Hope Historic Canal Rides has not violated its lease agreement because the state has “failed to provide proper, safe conditions” for the tourist attraction to operate.
DCNR spokesperson Rick Dalton said, “All of these conditions existed when Fernandez signed the agreement.”
One logical next step for the Bureau of State Parks of the DCNR would be to put the contract for the mule barge concession out to bid, and talk on New Hope’s streets is hot and heavy with speculation on who may step forward to manage the tourist attraction. One current business owner is said to be considering bidding for the lease with an eye on offering Venetian gondola-style rides to visitors. Another New Hope group known for “rescuing” troubled properties is said to be sniffing about Lock 11, as well.
But one party who’s making no secret of his desire to get the mule barge rides going again is well-known New Hope landscaper Ilan Avizohar, who spent more than seven years helping manage the concession for a previous owner. He says that he has the know-how and financial backing to get the job done.
Ilan Avizohar has run the barges before and wants to get them going again
Said Fernandez of Avizohar, “He’s more than welcome to help and be a partner. But legally, New Hope Historic Canal Rides is in compliance with the agreement, and payment has been made for 2015.”
In his letter of May 21, Bureau of State Parks Assistant Director Ryan J. Dysinger said, “Presently there is no renewal agreement for the 2015 concession operation. The concession lease agreement dated September, 14, 2009 provides that renewals after the first five years will be offered entirely at the Bureau’s discretion. Last year, the Bureau offered a one-year term renewal with the expectation that the concession would be operational for the 2015 season, since the flood remediation work has been completed.”
Large sections of the Delaware Canal were damaged by three successive, devastating floods in the period 2004-06.