AP NEWS

Somerset Lake dam repair delayed until 2019

April 27, 2018

Construction that was supposed to start this year to repair the Somerset Lake dam will now be delayed until 2019.

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission officials said that a delay in obtaining permits is causing the project to fall several months behind schedule.

This means anglers and boaters will have to wait until fall 2021 to use the lake instead of fall 2020, barring any additional delays.

The lake was drained in October to prepare for the construction project. It was originally drawn down by 6 feet in January 2012 to reduce pressure on the dam after a leak was discovered at the base and the structure was deemed a high-hazard dam. The estimated $6 million to $8 million project will involve building a new spillway, raising the elevation of the dam and making improvements to the dam and the structures used to control the water level.

Fish & Boat Commission spokesman Eric Levis explained that the timelines span three to five years, and relocating the fish and draining the lake are part of that.

The Somerset Lake project started when permit documents were submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection in 2016.

Levis said there is not a permit issue; it is just taking longer than expected. He said many factors can lead to a delay, including the number of permits being considered by the agencies.

“Permitting hasn’t come through as quickly as we had hoped,” he said. “Nothing was done wrong.”

Levis said he understands the community frustration considering that a lake in Cumberland County, his home area, was not usable for five years before the state had the funding to repair it.

“Now we have a good process in place,” he said.

He said the project is moving forward.

“In the end you will have a nice lake rebuild, and it will be back,” he said.

District 4 Commissioner Len Lichvar said he did not know the specifics of the permitting issue.

“I work in that arena and I understand that nothing happens fast in these levels,” he said. “It is just the nature of the beast.”

Lichvar said the money for the construction will remain in place and budget issues are not a factor in the project delay. Lichvar said the fall drawdown was the best decision that could be made with the information available at the time.

“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he said. “The decision was based on the anticipation that they would be starting. Unfortunately, things have not gone as quickly as anticipated.”

Lichvar said the delay will allow additional time to install habitat structures in the lake.

“That may be a blessing in disguise from a fishery standpoint,” he said.

Somerset Lake Action Committee Chairman Jeff Payne said he had hoped the project would proceed closer to schedule.

“I think the thought was things were progressing well and they wanted to take the lake down and the fish out when the weather was cool,” he said. “In the spring all the trucks are busy carting trout around. I understand why they wanted to do the fish salvage when they did. I think they felt at the time they would start in the spring.”

The county is responsible for the land around the lake as part of a 25-year lease agreement started in 2015.

“It is unfortunate for the fishermen of the county that the lake construction will be delayed until next spring,” Commissioner John Vatavuk said. “On the positive side, it will give the county more time to work on the nature park and for the volunteer groups to create new fish habitats within the lake.”

The 252-acre warm-water lake holds largemouth bass, walleye, channel catfish, crappies, sunfish, perch, muskellunge, tiger muskellunge, northern pike, bowfin, gizzard shad, golden shiner and common carp. Once the project is completed, commission biologists will begin re-establishing the fishery, a process that typically takes three to five years.