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THE TRANSFER OF THE CANAL
THE assets in hands of the receiver of the Panama Canal Company, which included the work done on the Isthmus, were conservatively valued by him at $90,000,000, but, of course, they were worth little or nothing unless the operation should be continued. To abandon it would be to entail upon upwards of two hundred thousand persons, most of them poor, or in moderate circumstances, losses which they could ill afford to bear. The receiver addressed himself with vigor to the task of renewing confidence in the enterprise as the first step towards securing the necessary funds for its continuance. He appointed an able committee to investigate the situation on the Isthmus and determine the future possibilities. In the last month of 1890, this committee repaired to Panama and after a careful examination of the work and the conditions to be met, reported that a lock canal could be completed in eight years at a cost of $100,000,000 of additional money. It recommended that a company should be organized for the purpose.
In pursuance of this object, Lieutenant Wyse was sent to Bogotá by the receiver. Wyse secured an extension of the original concession for ten years on the condition that the prospective company should be fully organized by February, 1893, and that the waterway should be open to traffic before the close of 1904.
In October, 1893, the New Panama Canal Company was organized, an extension of time having been granted by the Colombian Government for a consideration. The Company had a capital of $13,000,000 to begin with, and the ownership of all the material assets of the old company. When the Canal should be completed sixty per cent of the profits were to be paid to the latter for the liquidation of its liabilities. The Government had by extraordinary action in the matter of legislation enabled the New Panama Canal Company to get started, but its assistance stopped there and it assumed no responsibility for the Company's future.
The directors took a wise step at the outset. A technical committee was appointed to direct the operations and determine upon the precise plan for the Canal. The Comité Technique was composed of seven French engineers and seven foreigners, including two Americans. The body represented an aggregation of extraordinary talent and several of the members had extensive knowledge of canal work. The committee performed its task in the most thorough and painstaking manner. It began by examining all the technical data derived from the old company, endorsing it, or rectifying it, as the case might be. It made new surveys and, while securing information upon which to base a plan for the projected waterway, directed the continuance of excavations where they would be sure to serve in any course of operation that might ultimately be adopted. The work of this committee was by far the most valuable that had been accomplished upon the Isthmus up to that time. When the American authorities took over the assets of the New Panama Company, the Chairman of the Isthmian Canal Commission declared that the maps and documents which originated with the Comité Technique were worth one million dollars, or more.
In its final report, which was submitted at the end of 1898, the committee estimated the cost of a canal which should be equal to the utmost