Lake effect Pooled resources could save lake in as little as two years

By on November 22, 2011

By: LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer



Photo by Preston Whitcraft
Bass cribs, which used to be underwater, are exposed at the recently-drained Speedwell Forge Lake.Photo by Preston Whitcraft
Bass cribs, which used to be underwater, are exposed at the recently-drained Speedwell Forge Lake.

If traffic was any indicator, a lot of people care about saving Speedwell Forge Lake.

On Wednesday evening, Nov. 16, cars were lined up along Route 322 and even on Route 501, trying to make their way to Hopeland Road and the Brickerville Fire Hall in Elizabeth Township. That’s where state Sen. Mike Brubaker and state Rep. Tom Creighton were hosting a public meeting on the fate of Speedwell Forge Lake.

More than 300 persons packed into the crowded meeting room. Many others had to to turned away because there was no more room. A live-stream video was their only alternative to learning more about the plan to save the lake.

Brubaker said that Speedwell Forge Lake was near and dear to his heart. That’s where he first went on a row boat as a child and where he learned to fish.

It was obvious that many felt the same way. In fact, when Brubaker asked the crowd to raise their hands if they wanted to save Speedwell Forge Lake, every single hand went up. Not a single hand was raised against preserving the man-made lake that was recently drained dry for safety reasons.

"This is a good sign," said John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, which operates the recreational lake.

He told the crowd that their support for restoring the lake would go a long way toward making Speedwell Forge a priority. With 16 other lakes in Pennsylvania in similar dire straits, three are already being restored.

Public support is what made the difference, said Arway, and for Speedwell Forge Lake, the show of concern at the first public meeting would help to move it up on the priority list.

"We know we’ve got the public’s support. And we know it’s heavily used," said Arway. "We can work together to rebuild Speedwell Forge Lake."

Even so, with a price tag estimated at $6.3 million, it could be between seven and 10 years before that happens. Even if the lake project gets the needed funding, it would be another four years of construction to rebuild the dam.

Arway said that the situation was "bittersweet." As a fisherman and boater, he appreciated the recreational benefits of the lake. It would take a lot of hard work and creativity to get the job done, he added.

It can be done.

Arway cited Opossum Lake in Cumberland County, which got the $3.4 million needed for repairs through grants and fundraising. Leaser Lake in Lehigh County also got funding for its $3.6 million rebuilding, and the project is 85 percent complete. Dutch Fork Lake in Washington County has also been funded for $4 million through H2O PA funds.

For all of the projects on the high hazard dam list, it will cost more than $34.3 million to repair the dams. Most people don’t realize that all of the money for the properties comes from fishing and boating licenses. There is no tax money available.

Arway reported that the design phase of the project is about 30 percent complete. Once the design is established, the project can be put out for bids and a better estimate of the actual cost will be known.

Arway blamed the current situation on heavy rains and flooding from Tropical Storm Lee in early September. Before the storms, there were cracks in the dam, but engineers believed the dam had some more life in it. Lee’s torrential rains caused the cracks to intensify and made a large slab of concrete visibly heave. Safety was of great concern for the 200 residents who live downstream.

So, on Oct. 19 the process began to drain down the lake. It was announced that the fishing limit would be lifted. Not only did fisherman come out to reel in their last Speedwell catches for some time, but the fish and boat commission moved 74,000 fish from the lake and relocated them to Hammer Creek, Middle Creek and other areas.

"When we rebuild it, Speedwell Forge Lake grows fish very well," said Arway.

The 106-acre lake was created in 1966, and since then it has been a popular fishing and boating spot. Today it is a muddy hole with little resemblance to the beautiful rural lake surrounded by countryside and woodlands. It has also provided a home to swans, ducks, geese, herons and other wildlife.

"How do we rebuild the lake?" said Arway. "We can’t do it alone. We need help from the legislature. We need help from you."

Arway encouraged residents to "keep the pressure on" government officials and the media, and to start and support websites like Facebook’s Save Speedwell page, which was started by Andrea Becker and now has more than 1,734 fans and a logo with a canoe paddle, heron and turtle.

There were many questions and suggestions. One person asked if the lake could be dredged to sell some of the fertile topsoil. Ken Hess, from the Lititz Sportsmen’s Association, suggested that a channel be dug to establish a stream bed through the former lake site. He was concerned about erosion and its impact on the Hammer Creek and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.

Rodney May, an Elizabeth Township supervisor and member of the Brickerville Fire Company, pointed out that Speedwell Forge Lake was used by local fire companies as a water supply for their tankers.

The meeting ended on an hopeful note, with Arway saying that fundraising, grant funding and other resources could get the lake restored in two or three years, rather than seven or eight.

"We’re committed to rebuilding Speedwell Forge. We’d love to see it work," he said.

Becker, of the Save Speedwell Facebook page, said that she is in the process of the establishing a non-profit fund for donations to save the lake and make sure they have "the right process in place."

Gary Moore, who has been involved in other projects, said that "the sky’s the limit on what might be done to save Speedwell."

While Arway and his panel answered dozens of questions, they indicated that they would be happy to answer any additional questions and accept suggestions on restoring Speedwell Forge Lake. Questions and suggestions can be addressed to RA-speedwellforge@pa.gov. More information can be found at the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission at fish.state.pa.us. More SPEEDWELL, page A18

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