Major dam project announced

Lower Woods Pond to be refilled

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 5/5/21

LEBANON TOWNSHIP, PA — There’s not much water in Lower Woods Pond. Local officials say that will soon change. 

Off the county’s beaten path, tucked along a winding roadway …

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Major dam project announced

Lower Woods Pond to be refilled

Posted

LEBANON TOWNSHIP, PA — There’s not much water in Lower Woods Pond. Local officials say that will soon change. 

Off the county’s beaten path, tucked along a winding roadway that wraps around rows of forest, Lower Woods Pond was drained in 2012 when the PA Fish & Boat Commission discovered a leak in one of its dams. Today, a 40-acre pond left in the bed created by the previous dammed lake is the only relic of water on the 91 acres of otherwise dry land. Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the PA Fish & Boat Commission, joined elected officials last week to announce that the commission has secured a permit to begin a $2.6 million project this year reconstructing Lower Woods Pond’s three dams and spillway and refilling the lake to its full capacity. 

“We fully expect there to be dirt moving here this fall to have the project [get] underway,” Schaeffer said. “It will probably take about 18 months once the project begins. Then the refill [will take] about six months... we fully expect that by the end of 2023, we’ll see boats back on the lake here.”

There are several dam rehabilitation projects in the works in Wayne County and a slate throughout the commonwealth, Schaeffer said. Out of about 50 dams that the commission manages, 30 deteriorated to the point of requiring maintenance within the same timeframe. 

“It was sort of just this perfect storm of all the infrastructure getting bad and aging at the same time,” Schaeffer said. “We have over $150 million worth of infrastructure needs.” Wayne County, as several at the press conference pointed out, is home to more impaired, high-hazard dams than any other county in the state. Aside from Lower Woods, the commission has drained Miller Pond, Belmont Lake and White Oak Pond in recent years due to public safety concerns with their dams. Funding is in place to address all four.

“This has been a long and challenging process,” PA Sen. Lisa Baker (PA-20) said. “To all the people in the area: Thanks for your patience, your understanding. We didn’t let this fall through the cracks.”

Rep. Jonathan Fritz (PA-111) has had an eye on this project since his first day in office, literally. Schaeffer recalled meeting with him to discuss the issue before Fritz had even set up his desk. Fritz talked about the public meeting when residents were informed that 11 lakes in Pennsylvania were scheduled to be drained due to safety issues, and five of those lakes were located in Wayne County.

“Out of 67 counties and out of a large-size state such as Pennsylvania, we’ve got 11 compromised dams and there [are] five in Wayne County... there was automatic concern,” Fritz said, remembering that, years ago, there wasn’t much optimism that these lakes would ever be refilled. “To have these lakes come back online, and [the Hankins Pond Dam] to be rescued by our Wayne County Commissioners, that’s restoring the faith among our constituency and our region.”

Chairman of the county commissioners Brian Smith thanked Shaeffer and the entire commission for working to get these lakes back to their original capacity. He noted how vital the county’s water resources are to the local economy.

“Not only do we have the most number of impaired dams... we also have the highest number of out-of-state fishing license sales in the state of Pennsylvania,” he said. “People come here from all over the place to experience fishing in Wayne County... heads in beds, gasoline being sold, tires, fishing rods, fishing equipment, all kinds of sales and money being brought into our community because this is part of our culture and this is part of our heritage.”

While boaters will be able to enjoy the pond as soon as it refills, anglers will have to be more patient, according to the commission.

 “Once the pond is refilled, a multi-year restocking plan will begin to reestablish a world-class fishery, which will include largemouth bass and walleye.”

Schaeffer noted that the vegetation that has grown since the lake was drained will create the perfect habitat for the fish that will be placed there.

The status of all the lakes under the commission’s management can be viewed online at www.fishandboat.com/Resource/Lakes. A full video of the press conference, which contains more details about the engineering process of the Lower Woods Pond project can be found on the commission’s YouTube channel.

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