State Says Peters Dam Is 'Unsafe'

Pennsylvania agency says township council should look at ways to increase spillway capacity.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says the #2 dam at Peters Lake Park is unsafe.

The Division of Dam safety sent Peters Township Council a letter outlining the problems and stated that a study of hydraulic dam #2 shows it to be seriously inadequate according to new regulations. 

Township council discussed the letter at its Monday night meeting. In it, the DEP stated that in the event of a probable maximum flood, the Peters Lake Dam at Center Church Road would likely suffer overtopping that would cause a potential for loss of life in downstream areas. The DEP's definition of a probable maximum flood would mean unprecedented rainfall of more than 26 inches in 24 hours. 

The DEP revised its regulations governing dams last year in the wake of flooding after Hurricane Ivan back in 2004. The Peters Lake Dam was built in 1932 and the DEP says that the spillway is now considered to be undersized. 

The DEP did not set any deadlines or timeline for the township to take action or respond.

"They're leaving it open ended and in talking with them on the phone I get the impression that they understand the implications and they know that it's not a small matter to undertake this," Township Engineer Mark Zemaitis said.

He said the township has several options. 

"We want to get some concept plans and some cost estimates in front of us first before we talk to the DEP or state legislatures to see if we need to do anything," Zemaitis said. "There are a number of things you can do to widen the capacity of the spillway. You can widen the spillway, you can increase the crest height of the dam, you can build a secondary spillway. All options are on the table right now because we just really need to sit down and think about it." 

Roger October 10, 2012 at 10:51 AM
"... 26 inches in 24 hours ...." Is this a 500 year event? A 1,000 year event? If the area had that kind of rainfall, there would be more problems than an over-topping of this dam. Yes, there may be serious problems, but other problems would significantly more serious. This looks like a case of a government agency attempting to justify its existence by making a report that brings alarm, sending other officials on a chase.
Marty October 10, 2012 at 11:57 AM
Roger, I agree with you 100%...on the probability of that event and the justification attempt.
Aloofnd October 10, 2012 at 12:15 PM
It depends on how the gov agency goes about it. It depends on what federal, state or county dollars are available to address the issue. If the twp is not pressed with unreasonable deadlines, if funds are available to defray the local outlay, this could be the right call w/o undue local penalty. The lives living below the dam were not always there. The run-off feeding the lake no doubt has increased. The engineering standards for such things never get less stringent. So much of our infrastructure is taken for granted as sufficient to last indefinitely when in reality events such as Ivan do legitimately trigger reviews which are in the public interest. A bunch of engineers spent a lot a time with fairly complex calculations to arrive at this recommendation. The key would be to avoid the catastrophic over-the-top event which would erode the dam and potentially release an over-full lake all at once into an already saturated and over-the-banks stream-bed which now winds through residential areas. An add-on spill-way - properly engineered - does not sound unreasonable. Do recall that Johnstown has had three floods; the most recent in 1977. 85 deaths, $300M in damages. I'm tired enough reading about the "Peters Physician" and his Oxycontin scam, I'd really like to never read about the "Peters Flood" of 20xx. Dams are like elevators. Nobody thinks twice about them. Until they fail.
Rick Pfeuffer October 10, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Here we go again... What is the average yearly precipiation in our area?? This sounds very similar to the DEP's handling of the Ivy Lane/Justabout Rd sewage issue 12 years ago where the Township and DEP forced property owners to pay for a large sewage project that ultimately supported newer development in that area. And who can forget the expensive dam renovation project at Lake Colony which was forced upon residents as well. It always seems to be a similar approach, let's change "our criteria" to show more areas in "violation" and then force an expensive "fix" on the citizens to satisfy the new criteria. If you ask me, we should be spending our money in areas which will improve the quality of life for our residents/kids or attract more people to move in to increase the tax base rather than pay for an upgrade to a dam that may not even be necessary. Look around the area, we have an antiquated High School along with other schools that are too small, we are also woefully behind other surrounding communities as far as recreational facilities for our kids and community. Let's spend our tax dollars in areas where we can all see some benefit to our kids and our community.
Aloofnd October 12, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Peters Lake Park *IS* a recreational facility. A facility that comes with responsibilities. As does Arrowhead Trail. Facilities some seem to see only in terms of costs. Recreation means rather more than baseball soccer football basketball; and applies to more residents than exclusively school age. Not sure the High School is all that antiquated. Not as shiny as USC? Not sure that is a problem. I'm more concerned about the quality of the teaching and how the quality of the education is being managed rather than peripheral issues such as how architecturally striking the structure is. A case could be made for solving traffic issues surrounding the high school as having very broad benefit. I'd say ensuring the Township does not become liable for the downstream effects of a flood event is something all residents benefit from. The downstream residents are probably North Strabane; hopefully some state or county funds will ameliorate the cost issue. Responsibly maintaining the dam might not get us on the cover of Architectural Digest. Might keep us off 60 Minutes, though. The latter is not nearly as glamorous as the former, but imo of far greater import.


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