PF&BC will get funds for dams

Harrisburg — Call it a good first step, and a big one.

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission officials certainly are.

After a year of lobbying lawmakers, commission officials succeeded in getting the agency included in Act 89, the transportation funding bill signed into law just prior to the close of 2013.

The mammoth piece of legislation is intended largely to provide the money needed to offset a road and bridge repair funding shortage measured in the billions of dollars. It’s going to do that by raising fuel taxes.

Motorists were expected to start seeing those as of Jan. 1.

As the commission pointed out, though, it’s not just the drivers of automobiles who use gas. Boaters do, too. The commission should share in the resulting revenues, its leaders argued.

Lawmakers agreed, and made sure the commission will be getting some extra money.

Estimates are that the commission will get an additional $3.8 million in fiscal 2013-14, $4.5 million in 2014-15, $5.1 million in 2015-16, $5.8 million in 2016-17 and $6.4 million in 2017-18 and thereafter.

That’s over and above the $1.9 million, on average, that the commission has been getting in gas taxes previously.

“We spent the past year talking to lawmakers about the fairness of the bill, and making sure the Fish & Boat Commission was included,” said Tim Schaeffer, director of policy and planning for the agency.

The “universal support” the commission encountered led to its inclusion in the bill.

The money does come with one caveat.

In time, the commission will be able to use all of its Act 89 money for general boating-related expenses, such as repairing launches and access points, doing safety patrols and more. For the first five years that the money is coming in, however, it must use the additional revenue to repair high-hazard dams.

The commission has nine of those in need of repairs right now. They’re spread across the state, from Lower Woods Pond in Wayne County to Kyle Lake in Jefferson to Meadow Grounds Lake in Fulton to Hereford Manor in Beaver.

The least expensive repair job involves Minsi Lake in Northampton County, and it still totals $3.1 million. The most expensive is at Hereford Manor, where the commission aims to replace two drained lakes with one new one, at a cost of $12 million.

All told, the price tag for fixing all of the lakes right now stands at about $48 million, said Brian Barner, the commission’s deputy director for administration. The $25 million Act 89 will bring will cover all of that, he noted.

“But it’s a big piece of the pie,” he added.

The commission has some other money set aside for dam repairs.

Oil and gas revenues earned by leasing the mineral rights on some of its properties will soon top $7 million, he noted. It’s got another $2 million to $2.5 million in Growing Greener II grant money left over from past projects, and expects to get perhaps $1.5 million in federal grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he added.

It’s hoping to put most if not all of that money toward dam repairs, too.

But getting local money involved – be it from local citizens groups, foundations or local lawmakers who secure additional grants or funding – is really key, he added. That’s how other lakes have gotten fixed in the recent past.

There were once 20 lakes on the high-hazard dam list, but 12 had been repaired or are in the process of being repaired.

“We still need some help from other folks to make this work,” Barner said.

Neither Schaeffer nor Barner would say which lakes the commission might try to fix first. They are all “moving targets” in ways, Barner said.

Some – Meadow Grounds Lake, Hereford Manor and Belmont Lake in Wayne County – are “virgin” in that they still need their design work to be done. That can take 18 to 24 months, Barner said.

Another, Lake Somerset in Somerset County, needs its redesign work to be redone after soil testing raised questions within the Department of Environmental Protection, he added.

Still others, like Glade Run Lake in Butler County, are more “shovel ready and waiting to go,” Barner said.

But as for which lakes will be addressed in which order, there is no set list, Schaeffer said. But the commission remains committed to repairing each of the lakes in time, he added.

“Each one is really different, each one has a different level of readiness, each one has a different price tag,” he said.

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