July 20, 2008

Extra Money Might Be Heading to Commission

By Bob Frye, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 20--Sometimes you get what you want, even if it's from unexpected sources. That may be what's about to happen with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The agency, thanks to a last-minute addition to the state budget, may get some money to repair a few of the region's most popular fishing holes, including one that was drained a few years ago.

Gov. Ed Rendell has identified 24 "high hazard" dams across Pennsylvania. They're classified that way because they're believed to be incapable of handling the maximum amount of rainfall an area could receive in a once-in-a-century kind of storm. What's more, if the dams were to break, there would be significant risk of property damage and even lost lives downstream.

Rendell has said that all 24 dams must be repaired or drained by 2010.

That's bad news for the Fish and Boat Commission and anglers. The commission owns 16 of the 24 high-risk dams -- including such popular fishing destinations as Donegal Lake, Hereford Manor Lake, Canonsburg Lake, Virgin Run Dam, Lake Somerset, and Glade Run Lake.

The cost to fix all of those dams is estimated at $78 million. That's money the commission just doesn't have, said executive director Doug Austen.

When lawmakers approved the state budget recently, however, they allocated $35 million for high-hazard dam repairs. The commission is not automatically guaranteed any of that, said Tim Schaffer, director of the agency's office of planning, policy and communications.

But the commission can apply for some of it -- perhaps as much as $20 million -- through grants.

"We prefer to look at this as a glass half full kind of situation. This is $20 million we didn't have last week," Schaffer said.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Game Commission and state Department of Military Affairs each have at least one dam on the list, too, and will likely be seeking funding.

Fish and Boat Commissioner Tom Shetterly of Charleroi asked how likely it is his agency will get a large share of the money.

"I'm hopeful that our projects will be viewed very competitively," said Austen.

If and when any money is available, one of the first lakes that should be repaired is the already-drained Dutch Fork Lake in Washington County, said commissioner Don Anderson of Somerset. It was popular with anglers from Pittsburgh and across the region and needs to be put back into operation, he said.

"If we could get that one done first, it sure would be nice. I think there would be a lot of support locally to get that one done," Anderson said.

It's expected to take as long as five months for the grant application process to be worked out, Schaffer said. So, it will be early 2009 before the commission gets any word on whether it will be getting any money to repair its dams.


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