250 At Meadow Grounds Lake Meeting
The complete drawdown of Meadow Grounds Lake will continue as previously announced by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which along with the state Department of Environmental Protection and Sen. John Eichelberger conducted a public meeting last Thursday night for the benefit of residents and county officials.
About 250 individuals crowded into McConnellsburg High School auditorium on March 21 to hear about the history of the manmade lake that was completed in 1964 as well as the need for a drawdown and various rehabilitation options.
Jerry Woomer, acting chief engineer for the Fish Commission’s Bureau of Engineering and Developing, led off the 90-minute meeting with a PowerPoint presentation, which pointed out one of the primary purposes of dam regulations is to protect the health, safety and welfare of people and their property. Woomer noted the size B lake has the highest hazard potential because a dam breach could result in “substantial damage.” Around 65 homes and 163 individuals are at risk .
Two concerns with Roaring Run Dam at this time include spillway capacity, which is at 56 percent of design flow capacity, and seepage. Water is currently moving through the dam at the foundation and abutments. Even though a small amount of clear seepage is always expected, this ongoing problem could lead to “piping,” according to the engineer.
The seepage was originally discovered in 2006-07 and has since undergone repairs.
A drawdown, stated Woomer, would relieve stress to the soil in the dam as well as below the dam. Furthermore, it would reduce risk to the public living downstream.
Even though planning for the rehabilitation of the dam is only in the planning stages, Woomer said additional work will need to be done such as the widening of the spillway and the addition of a cutoff wall and sand filter.
“We really did try to avoid this situation,” he concluded.
Southcentral fisheries manager Khris Kuhn told those onhand that the lake is being drawn down approximately two feet per week since the stop logs were pulled on March 4. Once Meadow Grounds has been drained by a level of 10 feet, a preliminary fish salvage will be conducted using trap nets to funnel fish into pots and electrofishing. A start date of April 8 was cited for the start of electrofishing. All activities will be done from a boat.
These salvage efforts will continue until the lake is fully drained, the fisheries manager said. He said that at the tail end of the salvage, some fish will try to remain in the lake as long as possible. Some fish will ultimately die in this effort.
Roger Adams, chief of DEP’s dam safety bureau, told the crowd his agency’s involvement in this project is to ensure the protection of people downstream through dam design, inspections and monitoring. Life expectancy of a dam is approximately 50 years old. At this time, the current condition of Roaring Run Dam is not considered to be a “dam hazard emergency,” although there are deficiencies as they relate to spillway design and seepage.
Draining of the lake greatly lessens the risk of dam failure, stated Adams, who added draining the lake also halts further damage to the abutments and foundation.
Adams said a rehabilitation project would be less costly. The project is currently listed on the state’s capital project bill to the tune of $4 million, but the list also includes hundreds of other projects, Sen. Eichelberger announced. Not every project on the list will be funded. Furthermore, approval by the legislature could take several months or years.
Even though the project could cost up to $4 million, PFBC is hopeful the cost for the rehabilitation will fall between $2.25 and $3 million.
“We’ll make sure we have our fingers on this to navigate through the legislature,” the senator said.
No funding has been identified by PFBC to aid in the project’s completion, although residents were reminded of grass roots efforts elsewhere in the commonwealth, including at Opposum Lake in Cumberland County. The lake is set to be “back in business” later this month after being drained several years ago, Andy Shiels, PFBC deputy director of operations, said. A friends of the lake group was formed there to raise money, and the affected township also chipped in funding.
Shiels told one resident meetings and petitions often spring up during these types of instances. Local interested individuals can be put in contact with conservancy and friends groups from other areas. “They seem to form out of nowhere with several motivated individuals at the helm,” said Shiels.
Area resident James Griest suggested that archery and shooting contests be held to help raise money to save the Meadow Grounds in addition to benefit concerts and special offerings. “We don’t want to see this lake go away,” Griest said.
Shiels pointed out the PFBC is responsible for 55 dams in the commonwealth. In the hours before the meeting Thursday, the PFBC also announced the draining of Colyer Lake in Centre County for a proposed project. He said this was a “reality” of the situation and the number of dams owned by PFBC.
In the case of Meadow Grounds, the area is leased to PFBC by the Game Commission. The PFBC is the dam’s permitee and therefore responsible for what happens at the dam. “PFBC is on the hook for this dam ... it’s our responsibility,” stated Shiels.
One resident questioned where money from fishing and hunting licenses goes as well as money raised from timbering efforts by the Game Commission. Another asked about any potential impact on wildlife, while one man quizzed officials on what effect the drawdown would have on the local water table.
Fulton County Commissioner Rodney McCray announced how pleased the commissioners were to see such a large crowd and outpouring of concern for the Meadow Grounds. Ongoing talks are expected to be held with county officials in the immediate future on the drawdown topic. “Safety and well-being is of our utmost concern,” said McCray.
The commissioners had previously told PFBC and DEP officials several weeks prior that they were upset at not having gotten advanced notification of any problems at Meadow Grounds. Sen. Eichelberger pointed out the PFBC did a “poor job of communicating in this process.” “Engineering is the issue. They know there is a problem and acted due to public safety,” the senator stated.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat or fix a dam,” said Commissioner
Irvin Dasher, who noted he recently visited the dam and the seepage appears to have stopped. “With every repair has there been a need for a total drain?”
“You leave us with little hope. Step back, take a break and entertain some new ideas before you spend tens of thousands of dollars for a fish salvage,” said the commissioner, who received a round of applause from the crowd.
Adams responded that the leaks are on the left and right abutments and in the middle around the conduit. He said even though you may not see a major storm event in your lifetime, it does happen. “In the dam world, we can’t assume that risk,” he stated.
Rumors regarding turning or selling the area for development or fracking were dispelled by officials. In fact, Shiels reminded those on hand that the PFBC’s mission is to provide opportunities for fishing and boating. Dams are a side effect of this responsibility, he said.
“It’s our burden and the state’s burden ... We have to air on the side of public safety,” Shiels stated.
Real estate agent Anthony D’Anna received enthusiastic applause from the crowd when he asked whether a study had been done to determine the drawdown’s effect on the local economy. D’Anna and others learned that while DEP and PFBC had been to Meadow Grounds they were all residents of other counties such as Blair, Perry and Centre.
“It doesn’t seem like this was very thought out,” D’Anna said. “Our commissioners didn’t even know about it ... . This is the grassroots movement. We’re here and waiting to hear what to do.”
Providing a time line, Shiels said they will be in contact with a company to perform a geo-technical investigation and core borings to help narrow down the problem inside the dam. The same routine has been followed in repairing dams across the commonwealth. Generally speaking, Shiels stated residents could be looking at a two- to four-year time frame for the rehab to be completed.