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Inflatable dam plan may offer shad easier path upstream

Altered proposal would partially deflate the dam during the time the fish pass through the area.

Score one for the shad.

Persistent complaints that a proposed inflatable dam would threaten efforts to restore American shad to the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River have prompted Luzerne County officials to rethink its design.

Instead of building a special fish passageway through the dam, the county now proposes partially deflating the dam when the shad are heading upstream.

County Engineeer Jim Brozena said he and others also became concerned that fish might encounter too many stumbling blocks getting through the ladders and elevators that make up traditional passageways.

“This would be better than a fish passage facility because most facilities are not all that efficient,” Brozena said.

The partial deflation would run from May 20 through June 18 on the west side of the dam, according to information from Brozena.

It would decrease the depth of the recreational pool created by the dam during this nearly one-month period, Brozena said. He didn’t have estimates on how much but said he doesn’t believe it would be noticeable or restrict boating or other recreational activity.

The bags that make up the $14 million dam would be pumped up on or around May 20 through Sept. 30, creating a recreational pool extending more than four miles from the Barney Farms section of Wilkes-Barre to the Wyoming Valley Airport in Wyoming.

When inflated to a height of 9.5 feet, the dam will raise the river about 4 feet higher than average near the Market Street Bridge. The pool’s average water depth would be around 9 feet, with the deepest area around 25 feet.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comment on the change from today through Nov. 3.

Sara Deuling is among those who will be scrutinizing the new proposal through her work as Pennsylvania field associate for American Rivers, a nonprofit river conservation organization.

“It still does raise flags with me, so I’m not quite prepared to sign off on it,” Deuling said.

Even if the dam is lower, it’s still a barrier for migrating fish, she said. She also wants to look at the timing of the deflation and any research of the proposed model to make sure fish can get through.

Deuling also wonders if accommodations will be made when other local fish like walleye and smallmouth bass must pass through beyond the partial deflation time period.

Restoration of migratory fish would help the Susquehanna’s ecosystem and possibly bring back economy-boosting recreational shad fishing.

Public feedback will play a role in whether the state and federal governments issue permits and other approval for the dam.

U.S. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Nanticoke, has been pushing to build a dam for more than a decade, saying that $14 million in federal funding has been earmarked for the project. It’s not clear if that money is still available.

Advocates say the dam would boost the economy and jump-start efforts to reduce river pollutants, including sewage overflow.

Critics, including county minority Commissioner Stephen A. Urban, say the dam would collect pollutants and hurt wildlife.

“The more I go to meetings and hear what people say, the more I’m convinced that a free-flowing river is a healthier river,” Urban said. He’s also skeptical of arguments that the dam would not increase flooding risks when heavy rain swells the river and feeder creeks and streams.

TO COMMENT

Written comments about the proposed inflatable dam may be sent to Amy Elliott at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers State College Field Office, 1631 S. Atherton St., Suite 102, State College, PA 16801. Comments are due Nov. 3.

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