Bill identifies funding source for high-hazard dams such as Lake Somerset
A partially drained Lake Somerset is seen from near the spillway along Lake Road. (Roger Vogel / April 20, 2012)
The state designated the dam at Lake Somerset, managed by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, as a high-hazard dam. The Department of Environmental Protection cited the dam's spillway as insufficient to handle a probable maximum flood. It will cost an estimated $4.7 million to repair.
The proposed legislation would amend Act 256 of 1955 by directing 5 percent of the rents and royalties in the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the Fish & Boat Commission, Metzgar said. The amount will be capped at $6 million annually. The money would be restricted for the use of reconstructing and repairing high-hazard dams managed by the commission. Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence/Beaver/Butler, is the primary sponsor of the legislation, which is in the preliminary stage of getting co-sponsors.
"Right now the reason that there are problems with the dams is the lack of funding to repair them," Metzgar said in a telephone interview. "Here is an opportunity to get funding. It would establish a nexus between repairs of dams and the oil and gas industry."
Eric Levis, commission press secretary, said the lake was drawn down by about 5 feet to alleviate pressure on the dam. The water will remain at the lower level until a solution is found.
"This is one of a dozen dams in the state that are high-hazard dams," he said. "Money is a huge issue. We don't have much of a choice — we had to force the water down. When you are dealing with dams, it is a safety issue."
Len Lichvar, Somerset Conservation District manager, said in addition to the issues with the mandatory repairs needed at the spillway there are problems with leakage at the breast of the dam that will also have to be corrected.
"It's getting worse, not better," Lichvar said. "Infrastructure needs are one of the high priorities of the state, but there's little funding to be found. While they are estimating between 4 and 5 million, that could go up, depending on the solution."
Having dedicated funding for repairs would help the Fish & Boat Commission.
"Absolutely, we need money to fix these dams," Levis said. "We want people to rally around the cause. It takes the cooperation of the people, the state representatives and the state to fix problems like this."
Lichvar also thinks the proposed legislation will help.
"I hope the citizens, especially anglers and boaters, will support it and contact their legislators and ask them to support it," he said. "It won't cure all the problems, but it would be a step in the right direction."
People may continue to use Lake Somerset, which is a 253-acre impoundment. If later tests show that the problem is worsening, the lake and recreational area would be closed, Levis said.
"For now, we want people to use caution," he said. "Check out your access area and be aware of the situation."
Lichvar said several people have told him that fishing is still all right at the lake. That is not the case for duck hunters, said Tony Marich, Markleton. Some people won't hunt because of the mud.
"There are no places to hide," he said. "Hunting at the lake is now limited to people with sneak boats or portable blinds."
The number of breeding water fowl will decrease because ducklings need shoreline vegetation to hide in and with the draw down the vegetation is further away.
"Lake Somerset is a good place for hunting waterfowl," Marich said. "It's also an oasis for migrating birds. They stop at the lake when cloud cover or storms come in. If there are low clouds, they can't migrate over the ridgetops because they need to see the sky to be able to navigate."