County Questions Fish Commission
Hearing from upset residents late last week about the unexpected drainage of Meadow Grounds Lake, the Fulton County commissioners took the newfound concerns directly to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection as part of their weekly meeting Tuesday.
The commissioners posed an array of questions to the state officials via conference call, including the lack of advanced notice to local officials and residents; the potential loss of recreation and tourism; and the timeline and cost surrounding the drawdown, fish salvage and possible repairs. Andy Shiels and Jerry Woomer from PFBC as well as Roger Adams, a dam safety division chief for DEP, fielded the multitude questions after providing the commissioners with a brief history of the dam and recent issues.
Shiels, PFBC deputy director of operations, touched on the spillway design issues and ongoing seepage issues. In connection with those issues, DEP issued the Fish and Boat Commission a notice in February 2012 that the dam was considered to be “seriously inadequate.”
Woomer further elaborated that the water passing through the dam, known as seepage, was discovered through the inspection process. Several attempts have been made to control the seepage since 2005, but the repairs have only been “slightly successful,” Woomer stated.
Adams added it is not unusual to see some seepage, but attempts were made to collect and filter the “escalating” seepage. However, in this case a “more robust filter system” is needed.
Adams stated the issues have finally “come to a head.” He noted that hopefully through the drawdown process officials will be able to determine the cause and devise a remedy.
Shiels went on to say the PFBC recognizes Meadow Grounds Lake as a good fishery and quality lake. He said it is the organization’s intention to do what is necessary to bring the lake back, but a source of funding has not yet been identified. A best “guesstimate” in this scenario is $4 million would be needed to finance the project in its entirety.
“So you don’t know why it’s leaking. You’re going to drain it to determine the problem and then wait for money to fall from the sky to fix it,” said Commissioner Irvin Dasher, who would also point out that the having a mud hole for four years where Meadow Grounds Lake once was did not sound promising.
“How do we cut to the front of the class and move our project up the list,” added Dasher, also reminding those on hand the potential devastating effects the drawdown will have on recreation and tourism. Shiels suggested the formation of a local group to raise money to assist in the project whether through fundraisers or donations.
County treasurer and very concerned resident Monica Seville said that if county residents are going to raise all of the money, maybe the lake should be deeded back to the county. It was pointed out the 204- acre lake in Ayr Township is located on state gamelands and is thereby leased to PFBC by the Game Commission.
Both commissioners Dasher and Craig Cutchall pointed out the lack of communication in the matter, which has caught both local residents and the Board of Commissioners “off guard.” Dasher said he had to read about the proposed drawdown in a Franklin County newspaper. “We don’t have answers for people because we weren’t notified... We learned about this when you’re practically pulling the plug,” he stated.
Shiels reminded those on hand about the need to air on the side of caution to protect the public. Not being able to fish or boat for a period of time, he said, pales in comparison to the loss of life or home.
Moving on to the topic of the proposed fish salvage, Shiels stated a staff meeting will be held by PFBC later this week. The commissioners were informed the “logistics” meeting was not open to the public, and there would not be information divulged there that the county officials should be made aware of. They did learn, however, that removing the fish during cooler weather is more advantageous for fish survival.
“There are dead fish in any salvage,” stated Shiels. “We want to reduce that number and do the best we can.”
Woomer predicted the drawdown to take between 15 and 20 weeks, if the weather cooperates. Maintenance crews will be on-site twice weekly to monitor progress and remove stop logs.
“Fulton County is not a very big county. There are not a lot of resources here, but this is one we use ...,” concluded Commissioner Rodney McCray. “To lose Meadow Grounds Lake even for a short period of time will have a vast impact.”
Concerned residents wishing to express their concerns or issues regarding the proposed drawdown of Meadow Grounds Lake are urged to contact their legislators.
Sen. John Eichelberger Jr. 309 Allegheny Street Hollidaysburg, PA 16648 (814) 695-8386 firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Dick Hess 133A South Richard Street Bedford, PA 15522 814-623-9097 email@example.com
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey 538 Spruce Street Suite 302 Scranton, PA 18503 (570) 941-3540
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. 22 S. Third Street, Suite 6A Harrisburg, PA 17101 (717) 231-7540
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster 310 Penn Street, Suite 200 Hollidaysburg, PA 16648 814-696-6318