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The President informed the Board that he hoped that it would prove possible to build a sea level canal, “ but, while paying due heed to the ideal perfectibility of the scheme from the engineer's standpoint, remember the need of having a plan which shall provide for the immediate building of the canal on the safest terms and in the shortest possible time.
“ If to build a sea level canal will but slightly increase the risk, then, of course, it is preferable. But if to adopt a plan of a sea level canal means to incur hazard, and to insure indefinite delay, then it is not preferable. If the advantages and disadvantages are closely balanced I expect you to say so.
" I desire also to know whether, if you recommend a high level multi-lock canal, it will be possible after it is completed to turn it into, or substitute for it, in time, a sea level canal, without interrupting traffic upon it. Two of the prime considerations to be kept steadily in mind are: 1. The utmost practicable speed of construction. 2. Practical certainty that the plan proposed will be feasible; that it can be carried out with the minimum risk.”
After a careful study of all the data available at the headquarters of the Isthmian Canal Com
mission, which were then in Washington, the Board of Consulting Engineers spent several weeks at the scene of operations.
The report of the International Board of Consulting Engineers was submitted in February, 1906. It was a voluminous and able document, the most important feature of which was the recommendation by a majority of the members of a canal at sea level. This conclusion was reached by the five foreign members and General Davis, Professor Burr and Mr. Parsons. The remaining members favored a multi-lock canal.
The decision of the Board, which was a purely advisory body, disappointed the President and he determined to make a contrary recommendation to Congress. In this he had the support of the present Isthmian Canal Commission, and its predecessor, of Secretary Taft, and Chief Engineer Stevens, each of whom put his argument into documentary form.
The arguments on which the majority of the Board based their reports were disputed by their dissenting colleagues and by many other eminent engineers. The chief of them was founded on a belief that the large locks which would be necessary could not be constructed and operated with safety. On this point American opinion is generally conceded to be of greater weight than that of foreign engineers because here the experience has been more extensive than abroad. The engineers who should know most about the subject proclaimed their absolute confidence in the feasibility and safety of the largest locks that were taken into consideration.
The law left the President power to proceed with the Canal according to his best judgment. If he had endorsed the sea level project he must have applied to Congress for a larger appropriation with which to carry it out. As he did not do so, the matter was allowed to remain in statu quo and, as the Spooner Bill had clearly contemplated a multi-lock canal, the work was proceeded with along those lines.