The low-head dam on the Conewango Creek will soon be gone.
The Civil War era structure has been declared an "attractive nuisance," a hazard, and an orphan dam.
Warren residents have named it a source of good fishing, historic, and attractive.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Discussing the dam
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Division Chief Joe Capasso, left, and Project Coordinator Jake Kernoschak, right, discuss the Conewango Creek low-head dam removal project with City Manager Jim Nelles. The project is expected to start as early as Monday and the permits require that all equipment be out of the creek by Oct. 1.
In 2005, the dam was scheduled to be removed; the same goes for 2006.
This time, there is a schedule, a contractor, permits with deadlines and plenty of official backing.
The dam will be gone by the end of this month.
On Thursday, Warren City officials participated in a job conference with several state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) agents, and contractors who will be working on the project.
According to DEP, the permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that allow the contractor to be in the creek working expire on the first of October.
"We have to be done with our work in the water by Sept. 30," DEP Project Coordinator Jake Kernoschak said.
"It's a pretty fast track," DEP Construction Inspector Manager Tim Shope said.
If heavy rains keep lead contractor Haranin Construction Inc. of Bellefonte from completing the project and getting its equipment out of the water by the deadline, DEP officials could ask the Corps of Engineers for an extension.
City Manager Jim Nelles asked to be notified of the start date for the destruction project. He offered the assistance of the city police and the Department of Public Works to the contractor.
Haranin Construction President Scott Haranin said that he expects his crew to be in Warren preparing the site on Monday, if the agency provides a notice to proceed in time.
DEP officials said they expect that paperwork to be ready and Haranin expects to have all of the agency's paperwork requirements in place.
The property owner at the eastern end of the dam, John Anderson, has agreed to allow Haranin access to his property for the work. All of the equipment will access the creek from that end and all materials will be removed that way.
According to Project Engineer Andy Malene, the agency has secured easements from Pizza Hut as well.
"Everybody's been very cooperative," Kernoschak said.
Because the driveway to the property is on Conewango Avenue near Jackson Avenue and work will be going on during school hours, City Police Chief Ray Zydonik was asked for opinions on traffic control.
He suggested using flaggers at the driveway early in the mornings and at the end of the school days to prevent problems with Beaty-Warren Middle School traffic. Other than that, he said he expects signage to be sufficient.
Because of the tight schedule, the contractor may not stick to five eight-hour days per week. Haranin said he would contact DEP if he planned to work beyond eight-hour days or on weekends.
Zydonik also offered his department's help in keeping people out of areas that the contractor deems unsafe.
There has been local opposition to the removal project with residents saying the work is unnecessary, will remove a historic landmark, will take away favorite fishing spots, and will change the appearance of the creek for the worse.
"We're very well aware there are objections," Kernoschak said.
However, he said those objections are outweighed by safety concerns.
"A lot of people refer to them as killing machines," Kernoschak said of low-head dams. "It's a big liability."
In addition to the safety benefits, the project coordinator listed other benefits.
"It's very environmentally sound removing this dam," Kernoschak said. "It's probably going to restore a better fishery."
He said that fishing techniques would have to change because of the removal of the dam, but that fishing could improve along the whole creek. With the dam gone, fish will be able to more easily migrate up and down the creek, to and from the Allegheny River. He said smallmouth bass fishing could improve in the creek and walleye fishing could improve dramatically.
"This was initially proposed by the (Pennsylvania) Fish (and Boat) Commission," he said.
With benefits to safety, the environment, and recreation, "it makes sense from all different directions," Kernoschak said. "It's a win-win-win."
DEP Chief of Construction Inspectors Scott DiCriscio reminded Haranin that the project is in a high-visibility area. "We're in a community here," he said. "Keep in mind we want to be good neighbors."
Kernoschak said he expects the company to use heavy equipment to breach the middle of the dam early in the project, creating a gap to let the water behind it pass through.
All of the material in the dam will be removed from the creek, though some could be used along the shorelines as rip-rap material.
"There are no caustic, toxic materials" in the dam, Kernoschak said.
Haranin won the contract for the demolition project with a bid of $99,650, Shope said.
State Growing Greener funds will pay for the project.