WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP —
The push to restore Tamarack Lake took another step forward this week as a group of lake backers secured the support of the township’s supervisors.
Approximately 15 members of Friends of Tamarack Lake appeared at Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to ask the township’s three supervisors to do anything they can to help convince the 562-acre reservoir’s owner, the state Fish and Boat Commission, to move quickly to repair one of the lake’s dams so the lake can be filled to its normal level. The lake was drawn down after officials observed water seeping through the lake’s northern dam, which is in the township, and from underneath the northern dam’s outlet. The drawdown of approximately four feet on Nov. 23, 2011, followed consultation with dam safety officials at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Residents and others who use the lake for recreation became concerned this spring when it became clear that the Fish and Boat Commission had no certain timeline for repairing the problem and refilling the lake.
Since then Friends of Tamarack Lake formed and has launched a multi-pronged lobbying effort, part of which was executed successfully Thursday. After several members of the Friends spoke, Supervisor Chairman Bill Rosenberger announced “We are behind you.” He explained that while the township does not have the funds to investigate and repair the dam’s problem, the supervisors will issue a letter of support for prompt action.
Members of the Friends are also lobbying Republican state Rep. Brad Roae, Republican state Sen. Bob Robbins and Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, but there is a strong sense of frustration with the Fish and Boat Commission.
The commission “made it clear that it will be a long, long, long time before they fix this lake,” Mitch Roe said at Thursday’s meeting. A lake-area resident who once ran a bait shop there, Roe was referring to statements from commission officials that a number of commission-owned dams across the state have been waiting for repairs for many years and there is not money available to pay for fixes.
“The lake is such an asset to our area,” Roe said, explaining that it provides recreation for locals and draws dollars to the community as outsiders visit to fish. “There are a lot of people from the Pittsburgh area who come up here” to the lake, he said.
As Tamarack stands now, it is nearly impossible to get a boat into the lake as the water has receeded far from boat launch ramps. Yards of mud, muck and stumps that used to be underwater now separate the old shoreline from the water that remains.
Roe pointed out that the commission has yet to determine exactly what is wrong with the dam and how much repairs would cost. He said completing these steps are key because an effort to raise funds could be launched once a cost estimate was developed.
The commission has said an engineer will visit the dam, and cost estimates should be developed no later than December.
Others, including former West Mead Township Supervisor Walter Young, spoke of the lake’s importance in controlling floods. He expressed concern about what could happen if Tamarack is not fully functional.
Tamarack Lake and Rainbow Lake, which is next to Meadville Area Senior High School, were built in the early 1960s to control flooding on Mill Run. The run had flooded downtown Meadville many times over the years, but a major flood in 1959 spurred action.
Young pointed out that Mill Run crosses a major state-approved truck route — North Street — twice.
“Now in 2012 we don’t have floods any more?” Young asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Expanding on the history of the lake, Frank Byham pointed out that like many flood control structures, Tamarack was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Only later was it turned over to Fish and Boat Commission. As a result, Byham wondered if there is a role for the federal government in repairing the dam. In an effort to learn more, he has contacted U.S. Rep. Kelly’s office about the situation.
Supervisor John Shartle, who also serves as the township’s roadmaster, shared Young’s and Byham’s concerns about flooding.
“We’ve dealt with the aftermath of storm with the dam working and had $300,000 in damage just like that,” he said.
Both Shartle and Supervisor Vice Chairman Michael Jordan expressed frustration with the amount of time it is taking the commission to act and the potential need for expensive engineering studies.
“I think you just need to get a piece of equipment out there and dig it up,” Shartle said.
Pat Bywater can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to learn more about the effort to restore Tamarack Lake or join Friends of Tamarack Lake, attend the group’s next meeting on June 21 at Oak Grove Park, 10902 Oak Grove Ave., or contact Melissa Fuller at email@example.com or 720-9965.