PF&BC officials fret about their dicey 13 dams

By Bob Frye

Capital Correspondent

Harrisburg, Pa. – The 2007 hurricane season is off to an early
start, according to weather forecasters.

That should worry anyone who fishes in Pennsylvania.

The Keystone State is far removed from the country’s coasts, to
be sure. But hurricanes elsewhere can bring lots of rain – even
flooding, on occasion –  here.

That could, in the long run, mean fewer places to fish. That’s
because more than a dozen Fish & Boat Commission-owned
&#8220high-hazard” lakes are in real danger of being drawn
down.

The commission already has completely or partially drawn down
six such lakes across the state – Dutch Fork Lake in Washington
County, Ingham Spring Dam in Bucks, Colyer Lake in Centre, Leaser
Lake in Luzerne, and Opossum Lake in Cumberland, and Upper Hereford
Manor Lake in Beaver – because their dams were deemed unsafe and
there’s no money to fix them.

Leaser Lake is being fixed, thanks to more than $5 million in
state funding. An engineering study to determine how to fix Opossum
Lake is also set to get under way.

But the Fish & Boat Commission has no money to fund any of
the other repairs needed. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,
as it turns out.

There are 13 other commission-owned high-hazard dams on DEP’s
&#8220unsafe dam list.” They include Glade Run Lake in Butler
County, Canonsburg Lake in Washington, Virgin Run Dam in Fayette,
Donegal Lake in Westmoreland, Somerset Lake in Somerset, Kahle Lake
in Venango, Kyle Lake in Clearfield, Nessmuk Lake in Tioga, Stevens
Lake in Wyoming, Belmont Lake and Lower Woods Pond in Wyoming,
Minsi Lake in Northampton, and Speedwell Forge Lake in
Lancaster.

Those lakes are on &#8220death row,” said Tom Ford, chief of
staff for the Fish & Boat Commission. &#8220If we would
find, during our routine annual inspections, some significant
problems, we would have to draw them down,” Ford said.

A high-hazard dam is not, in Department of Environmental
Protection terms, one that is in danger of failing. It is a dam
where any failure would impact homes and buildings and potentially
cause loss of life, said DEP spokesman Mike Smith.

Under state law, the owners of those kinds of dams are
responsible for making sure the structures can contain the kind of
&#8220most severe combination of critical meteorologic and
hydrologic conditions that are reasonably possible in an area,” he
added.

Most spillways were built when regulations called for them to be
able to handle the kind of flood that might come along every 100 to
500 years, though, said Dick Mulfinger, chief of the Fish &
Boat Commission’s bureau of engineering and development.

Today, ever-tightening standards require them to be able to
withstand a 10,000-year or 100,000-year flood, he said.

That’s great, Mulfinger said, except that the commission can’t
afford the $72 million it would cost to bring all of its dams up to
those standards.

The commission’s annually yearly budget totals little more than
$50 million, however, with just $1.5 million of that set aside to
handle all of the commission’s infrastructure needs. That means
that, unless the state government comes up with some money, a lot
of local lakes could disappear in a hurry.

&#8220If these dams get damaged, (DEP) is going to say fix
them or drain them. And if we can’t fix them fast enough, they’re
going to say breach them because they don’t want them to be a
hazard to the public,” Mulfinger said.

&#8220That’s why we sit on pins and needles every time we
get some of these hurricanes.”

&#8220We are one Hurricane Ivan away from losing a lot of
these places,” Ford agreed.

Fish & Boat Commission officials have spent some time at the
state Capitol in Harrisburg looking for political funding for dam
repairs using general tax dollars. They’ve so far come up empty for
the most part, however.

That means any dam upgrades are going to have to continue to be
put off, according to Mulfinger. &#8220Our whole budget for
infrastructure is only about $1 million or $1.5 million, he
said.

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