State issues permits for Somerset Lake project

March 2, 2019

The long-awaited permits for the Somerset Lake dam project were finally approved.

Paul Urbanik, director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Bureau of Engineering, said that he received notification Friday that the permits had been issued, three years after the applications were sent.

“It has been quite some time, and we are ready now that we have the permit we can turn the project over to (the Department of General Services) and they will start the bidding process, which normally takes four to five months,” he said.

Urbanik said construction should start this summer. “If the dam is completed by fall 2020, it normally takes six months to refill,” he said. Officials will refill the lake slowly as they monitor the dam.

“You are looking at spring 2021,” he said. “That is right about when you will be able to use it again.”

The state-funded $6 million to $8 million project presents a challenge because the lake has a sandy foundation. Other waterways feature a rock or soil foundation.

“The geology under the lake is a bit of a challenge for dam construction,” he said. “It is a lot of sand, some layers of clay, not a lot of bedrock under there and there is a lot of water pressure underneath the dam already and a natural area for water to collect in that valley. It complicates things.”

State Sen. Pat Stefano said he is glad the permits, which were issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection, are finally in hand.

“That was a tourist center,” he said of the lake. “A lot of buses that came in for Flight 93 come right off the turnpike. It is a great place to stop and a great attraction for bird watchers and anglers.”

Stefano said he hopes a local contractor gets the job.

In 2013 the Somerset Lake Action Committee was formed to bring awareness to the lake’s infrastructure needs. Chairman Dr. Jeff Payne said the permits are welcome news.

“It gives us a goal to shoot for to get more work done around the lake,” he said. “It should be better than ever with improvements between now and then.”

Somerset County Commissioner Pat Terlingo said that he wanted to thank everybody involved for getting the project up and running.

“It was an undertaking that had taken some time, and I think it was time well-spent,” he said. “It makes me feel very, very good. It is a plus for this county, and all parties included in the entire process should be very, very happy.”

The county is working to build a trail around the lake.

“It is a heck of a recreation area for young as well as old,” he said. “I think the trail going around there will be a great asset for bikers, walkers, fisherman, as well as nature lovers.”

State Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar said he is pleased that the state has the necessary permits in hand.

“But I think this is a great, high-profile example of how the permitting process is broken,” he said. “I have to help private individuals deal with this problem on a daily basis, and I hope this example will be a tool to help get the bureaucracies back in check.”

The state deemed the dam a hazard and reduced the water level by six feet in January 2012. Construction includes building a new spillway, raising the elevation of the dam and making improvements to the dam and the structures used to control the water level. Construction is expected to take about 18 months.