Emergency responders prepared for High Point Lake dam problems
A group of emergency responders in Somerset County met at High Point Lake Wednesday to dispel notions that the dam will fail and to assure residents that they have a plan in place if it catastrophically did.
Among those in attendance were Paul Urbanik, acting director of engineering with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, Joel Landis, director of the Somerset County Emergency Management Agency, Addison Fire Chief Bill Barlow, Confluence Fire Chief Tom Close and Salisbury Fire Chief Dan Haines.
Around 7 p.m. Saturday a resident near the dam in Addison Township reported to the Somerset County Emergency Management Agency that they heard a loud crash from within the dam. A short time later, heavy flows were seen discharging from the dam’s main spillway outlet pipe.
Workers with the agency alerted the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.
The commission dispatched local law enforcement, maintenance and engineering staff to the dam for evaluation and determined that a part of the dam’s principal spillway intake structure had suddenly failed.
Landis said there are maps of the potentially affected areas available to the public at his office. Currently, the dam has 24-hour surveillance on it to ensure that emergency responders know if there is a failure. If the dam were to fail, an evacuation order would be sent to each community that would be impacted and the whole county would be alerted to it via the emergency broadcast system.
Urbanik said there is no immediate threat to the public. The lake has been drawn down 12 inches thus far, and they plan to drain it an additional 10 to 15 feet.
“That’ll give us a good idea of the damage,” Urbanik said.
It is possible that they could draw down the entire lake at some point, though Urbanik said that was unlikely.
Barlow said they have an emergency plan for a broken dam, including evacuation shelters, buses and the swift water rescue team.
“Should something happen, we’ll put that plan into place,” Barlow said.
Close said they alerted senior living facilities about the potential for a break. Haines said they upgraded EMS supplies in preparation.
Urbanik said that 13 people could potentially be directly impacted by a broken dam. He estimated that repairs could cost anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000. He said that the waterways leading into Addison Township would not be overwhelmed by the water of the lake.
“By the time it would get there, it would be contained by riverbanks,” he said.
Close said they don’t know exactly what would happen, but they want to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.
An underwater inspection of the dam happens every 10 years. But the last one took place in 2007, according to Urbanik.
A few outdoorsmen were at the media conference on Wednesday. Logan Crayton, of Farmington, fishes at the lake often. He had some concerns about the plan.
“This is an elite fishery,” he said. “It’s one of the best in the state. If they’re talking about drawing it down 15 feet, the vegetation will all be gone.”