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Stefano: With permits pending, Somerset Lake should reopen in 2020

December 5, 2018

Somerset Lake still does not have permits for a dam remediation project; however, the paperwork should be finalized soon, according to a local lawmaker.

Paul Urbanik, director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Bureau of Engineering, said that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing the permits needed to fix the dam. Construction will begin about five to six months after the permits are obtained.

“The construction schedules are based on the permits,” he said. “When we don’t get the permits, we can’t start.”

But state Sen. Pat Stefano said he talked with Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director Tim Schaeffer, who reported to him that the permits should be in place within the month.

“The permit should be finalized in the next month or so and released for construction just in time for construction season,” Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, said. “It’s been silent for a while, so I am glad to have this important update.”

In January 2012 the water level in the lake was reduced by 6 feet to ease pressure on the dam, which was deemed a hazard by the state. Repair costs were estimated at between $6 million and $8 million. New 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 will take about 18 months, and bids cannot be solicited until permits are in place. Permit documents were sent to the DEP in 2016.

“If we have an extremely wet year, we could have a delay, if it is a really bad winter.” Urbanik said. “There are a lot of factors involved.”

Urbanik said the delay stems from the department asking a lot of follow-up questions on the permit application.

“It’s taking longer than previous projects due to the complexities of the project itself,” he said.

He explained that one of the differences between this project and previous projects is the foundation materials. Somerset Lake has a sandy foundation, while other waterways have a rock or soil foundation. He said that the way the water moves under the dam is a concern to engineers as well.

“This is a bigger, more complex project,” he said. “Am I shocked it is taking longer? No, not really . . . as long as it is done right and done safe.”

Neil Shader, DEP spokesman, said that a couple of design changes have slowed the permitting process.

“These typically take six to 12 months, so this is a longer time frame than most,” Shader said. “The design itself had a couple of changes and the issue with the foundation.”

Shader said he did not have a time frame on when the permits may be issued.

“We typically don’t give a time frame in case something slips,” he said.

Stefano said that according to information he received, the lake should reopen in the summer of 2020.

“We were hoping to be in this summer,” he said. “Everyone has worked so hard in the community to raise funds.”

Urbanik said everything else is ready for the project to go out to bid.

“We’re excited to start, like everybody else in Somerset,” he said. “It will be an exciting project once we get started.”

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