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Speedwell’s $6.3 million price tag will be a challenge Funding could come through Marcellus Shale fees
By: LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer
It was an hour-long question and answer session at the public meeting for Speedwell Forge Lake.
The crowd of concerned citizens gathered at the Warwick Middle School Feb. 16 to discuss how the lake, which was drained last year due to cracks in its dam, can be saved.
The big question centered on the cost of replacement, and there were few clear-cut answers on how that would accomplished. But there was a lot of hope.
"Why does it cost $6.3 million?" asked local resident Irvin Good, who wanted to know if the dam would be completely removed and replaced, or portions of it repaired.
He, and the rest of the room, learned that the dam would need to be replaced and that a large portion of the high price tag related to engineering costs.
Jack Rokavec of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s engineering division said the project involved building a new causeway. He added that the $6.3 million estimate could potentially drop once bids were sent out. In this economy, that has been known to happen. He was cautiously optimistic that the price might be less in the end.
Optimism is in the air, despite less than promising figures on potential funding. The auditorium was nearly filled with those interested in hearing how the lake might be restored.
John Arway, executive director of the Fish & Boat Commission, 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.
Speedwell Forge Lake was drained Oct. 19, after damage was discovered at the dam that retains the lake along Hammer Creek. The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission declared the dam unsafe and proceeded to salvage whatever fish could be preserved.
The 106-acre lake was created in 1966, and had been a popular fishing and boating spot that provided a habitat to swans, ducks, geese, herons and other wildlife. Since October, the one-time lake has become a muddy hole. And many people want to see it return to its previous state.
The funding options to make that happen were discussed at last week’s meeting. And they showed some promise.
"Our intent is to rebuild the lake," assured Arway, noting that the commission has few resources to raise funds.
In the meantime, the Fish & Boat Commission is taking temporary measures to monitor the lake and ensure the safety of homes downstream along Hammer Creek. They plan to breach the embankment to direct the flow of water downstream and armor the earthen embankment against erosion.
State representatives John Bear and Tom Creighton were also on hand at the meeting. Both commented on how impressed they were with the public response.
"You have really demonstrated this is a very important project and issue for our area," said Creighton. "We’re working on different options. The expensive option, the cheap option, the temporary option. There are many different ways this could be addressed."
No matter what the option ends up being, the money used to help restore the lake might include the state’s Marcellus Shale impact fee, the H2O Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund. But they will only provide a small portion of the funds needed, if they are even awarded to the Speedwell Lake project.
"There will be some money in a pot, but it’s going to be highly competitive," warned Senator Mike Brubaker.
Arway reported that some funding could come from natural gas found in shale deposits beneath some fish and boat commission lands. The commission has decided to allow gas exploration on its properties, despite concerns for environmental damage. Arway said that there would be no surface disturbance to the properties.
"It’s going to be done anyway," said Arway, explaining that the gas could be drawn off from neighboring sites and the commission wouldn’t see a penny for those resources.
Even if they get money from gas exploration, the fish and boat commission has 16 other lakes in similar straits. Arway told citizens that they were not in a unique situation and there would be considerable competition for the funds.
Larry Long of Lakeview Drive asked if funds were being sought from FEMA or PEMA, since the damage occurred as a result of storm damage and flooding. Stan Keener of Lancaster Bassmasters was concerned about the sediment buildup and potential damage downstream, all the way to the Chesapeake Bay.
Keener suggested that someone look into funding through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other organizations.
It appeared that the best hope might be with the Save Speedwell organization.
"Now is the point where you can do something," said Save Speedwell organizer Andrea Becker. "We need every single one of you."
She said her group is now accepting donations in their initial phase of fundraising. As an incorporated non-profit organization pursuing IRS 501 (c) 3 status, all donations are tax deductible.
"This announcement marks the official beginning of fundraising with an end goal of more than $6 million," said Becker.
To facilitate donations and to provide the public with more information, the group has recently launched its official website, savespeedwell.org. The new site includes the ability to donate through Paypal or to mail donations. It also provides a look at the group’s strategic plans and a centralized location for news and updates.
Donations can also be mailed to 458 Lakeview Drive, Lititz, PA 17543. More SPEEDWELL, page A3