Dam Repair Still On Hold
Roads continue to be the primary issue for Rice Township supervisors, who at the June 6 meeting announced that state crews will remove and replace the bridge on Blytheburn Road just west of Interstate 81. This represents a change from the original plan to do minor repairs to the bridge. The existing bridge abutments –the structures that hold the bridge up –will stay in place and be repaired, but the bridge itself will be replaced.
Township Secretary Jeff Beck said the Luzerne County Engineer reported that the goal is to finish the bridge before winter, but a start date has not yet been announced. Beck anticipates that the road will need to be closed for the duration of the project.
At the meeting, supervisors also announced that repairs were about to begin on Henry Drive. Engineer Andy Pasonick said the project should cost $5,000 to $10,000 less than expected because some portions of the road can get additional milling –removing a bit of the surface to smooth it out –but will not need the more costly base repairs that require digging down deeper into the road.
Roadmaster Bob Pipech also noted that utility work continues near Laurel Lakes, where utility lines had to be moved due to construction of a new culvert. The PP&L lattice tower project also continues and should be completed by fall. Both projects have brought unusual levels of truck traffic to the township.
Pipech also said the township bought a new John Deere zero-turn industrial mowing tractor to replace an unusable old one, and weed removal alongside roadways has consumed the township’s road crew in recent weeks.
Also on the subject of roads, resident Mark Vital attended the meeting to thank supervisors for repairing a drainage ditch that a neighbor had filled in before moving away from the area, causing damage to Vital’s property. Vital said the drainage ditch is now functioning properly after repairs by the township.
The proposed repairs to the Ice Lakes dam remain on hold, pending a return call to Pasonick from the Fish and Boat Commission. The regulations of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Fish and Boat Commission are at odds with each other. Pasonick explained that the DEP’s dam repair regulations are meant to protect residents whose properties would be at risk in the event of dam failure, while the Fish and Boat Commission is concerned primarily with wildlife and habitats. A preliminary study required in the permit process for the dam repair indicated that the endangered Northern Cricket Frog species could possibly exist at the Ice Lakes because the habitat conditions are right. Now the township may need to do a second study to determine whether the frogs truly do inhabit the area. If so, further regulations to the dam project could apply.
But the second study itself could cost at least $14,000 on top of the other costs already associated with the dam repair, so Pasonick is hoping for a compromise solution that will satisfy both agencies without necessitating the second study.
The DEP says the lake should be drained completely before repairs are made. The Fish and Boat Commission says this could endanger any Northern Cricket Frogs living there.
In response to residents’ questions, Pasonick noted two factors that may make this interagency wrangling seem like overkill: 1) The dam is considered low-risk and has very little chance of failing, and 2) It has not been proved that any Northern Cricket Frogs exist at the site. But because both agencies are audited by other agencies, they can’t waive a regulation without justly documented reasons, Pasonick said. In other business, supervisors: Moved the dates of two upcoming
meetings from Tuesdays to Wednesdays. The July meeting will be held at 7 p. m. Wednesday, July 5, due to the July 4 holiday, and the November meeting will be held at 7 p. m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, due to Election Day.
Authorized Environmental Abatement Associates to perform asbestos testing at the former Rice