By Konstantine Fekos
The major roadblock in efforts to restore and refill Tamarack Lake has officially been passed, according to representatives of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who explain that any upcoming difficulties will merely take time to resolve.
Possibly a long time.
With an approximate $11.8 million grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority in hand, the PFBC’s next step is an optimistic 18-month stretch to enter a contracting agreement, plan and design appropriate repairs, and secure the necessary permits, according to Brian Barner, PFBC deputy director of administration.
“We’re good to go on the funding front,” he said. “The 18 months leads up to a contract letting point. Then begins the 30-month process from the contracting period to the project’s completion.”
Overall, the Tamarack Lake repair project is expected to take at least four years from planning to construction before state and local officials have a better idea of when the lake can safely collect water.
Necessary repairs include erosion areas around the outlet conduit pipe as well as voids in the dams and discolored water seepage, believed to contain sandy materials.
“Dam A (at the Meadville, or north, end of the lake) is more problematic than dam B, but both are covered by grand funds,” said Barner. Four miles long and a half-mile wide, the 562-acre manmade reservoir in south-central Crawford County is four miles southeast of Meadville. It was built in the mid-1960s to help control possible flooding of nearby French Creek.
The Department of Environmental Protection can take 12 months to approve or disapprove construction designs, but PFBC representatives are hopeful that Tamarack’s flood control aspect will expedite the process.
“We were extremely excited to hear that (PFBC received the grant),” said Devin DeMario, PFBC legislative liaison, emphasizing the flood control project got Tamarack quicker funding. “Other state dams are not so lucky.”
Barner and DeMario held a conference Thursday afternoon in Meadville’s Masonic Building to inform local officials and organizations regarding the restoration project’s current state, as well as to address questions or concerns.
Among those in attendance were Pam Green, legislative liaison to Sen. Bob Robbins, Rep. Brad Roae and the Friends of Tamarack Lake.
Major concerns focused on the timeline’s variability beyond the PFBC’s control, depending instead on the Department of General Services, responsible for finding a contracting firm to design construction plans, and eventually DEP approvals.
“The largest hurdle is funding, and that’s OK,” said Roae. “From here, the big thing is doing everything we can to keep the project on track. There are a lot of steps, and if permits sit around too long, some steps will be held up by the ones prior.”
Roae understands the project may seem endless to the public, but believes in a four-to-five-year completion, a timeline with which the PFBC has made significant progress on other state lake restorations, including Possum Lake in Cumberland County, roughly in its third year of rehabilitation.
Engineering complexities, including the double set of specifications required to repair two different dams, could lengthen the process, said Barner.
After the Tamarack project’s completion, he continued, the lake may take several months to safely refill.
The Friends of Tamarack Lake voiced concerns regarding habitat maintenance and the fish-based ecosystem once construction is finished and the lake reaches proper levels.
“Everyone’s working together to have Tamarack Lake back for everyone to enjoy,” said Melissa Fuller, Friends of Tamarack representative.
Since grant funding only covers the dam restorations, according to Barner, additional projects like reservoir habitat maintenance, potential sediment removal and vegetation removal will require more funding, most likely on the local level.
“These issues occur around every dam,” said Barner. “Groups like the Friends of Tamarack have made a successful support structure for other lake restorations.”
Barner believes sediment removal is optional depending on the lake’s post-refill status; and vegetation, including tree and brush growths, should be cleared to certain footage in setback areas including dams and boat launching locations.
Subsequent projects require community funding, but can be executed without state permits, Barner said. Complete dredging can be extremely expensive, and the PFBC’s fishing license sales and boat registration revenues don’t cover projects of that magnitude, he added.
The fish population must be re-established in stages to allow larger fish like walleye and crappie to survive on a food base of smaller fish, according to DeMario, who said fishery biologists will handle this aspect of the lake structure.
“This was a very productive meeting and we got a lot of good ideas,” said Fuller. “We want to see the project done as soon as possible.”
The PFBC representatives have placed their trust in the Friends of Tamarack and like organizations to submit suggestions and ideas for what the community wants to see outside of the dam rehabilitation.
While the PFBC is simultaneously working on other lake projects, Barner is confident the commission can work together with local organizations to improve Tamarack’s progress.
“It sounds like four years is, number one, a long time and, number two, very optimistic,” said Meadville Mayor John C. Soff. “Let’s hope government agencies can work together in a cooperative and expeditious manner so it doesn’t have to take that long.”
Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.