The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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August 29, 2013

Dam at center of flood dispute

BOSWELL — A water authority official says state-ordered removal of a century-old reservoir dam contributed to flooding Wednesday that damaged several homes in Boswell.

But the Department of Environmental Protection insists the dam was falling apart and had to go and that local officials should have taken action that would have contained this week’s deluge.

At issue is a dam off Mississippi Street that was built in the early 19th century to create a 15-acre reservoir to serve as the municipal water supply, said Tony Deluca of the Boswell Water Authority.

“They used it until about 1970, and then they drained it,” he said. “It’s been drained since then. They took the pipes and all that out, and left two pipes at the bottom to let the water out.”

The former reservoir became a defacto stormwater management pond, he said. It would fill up during times of heavy runoff and drain gradually through the two small pipes.

“It was a perfect stormwater management system,” Deluca said. “I have seen it 12 to 15 feet deep in there. It was when there was 3 feet of snow that melted and a heavy rain.”

State inspectors saw it as a dangerous situation and had been pushing the authority and the borough for a solution for more than a decade, DEP spokesman John Poister said from his Pittsburgh office.

“We did, in fact, advocate them to do this,” Poister said. “The former reservoir was overgrown with vegetation and trees. It was badly degraded and in danger of failing.”

The state ordered in March 2010 that the dam either be removed or be restored to DEP standards for stormwater management, Poister said, noting the inspectors’ concern that the outflow pipes could clog and allow the reservoir to fill to dangerous levels.

“They elected to breech the dam,” Poister said.

But the local officials shouldn’t have stopped there, he said.

“In breeching that dam, they also need to look at the ramifications and what the results would be from that,” Poister said. “Municipalities are responsible for flood control.”

State engineers were in Boswell on Thursday to help local leaders assess damage and plan new measures, he said.

It should never have come to this point, Deluca fumed.

“If they really looked at the design, it would never have broken,” Deluca said, explaining that the dam was constructed with 24 inches of concrete reinforced with 4-inch cable. A contractor removing the dam had to bring in additional equipment to remove the embedded structure, he said.

“I believe they made a mistake by making us do it,” Deluca said. “After 45 years of having a flood control plan, it is basically a waste of money. Now they want us to invest a quarter-million or a half-million dollars for a flood control plan.”

Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.

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