Village seeks federal help with dam

B y Derek Liebig

Local officials are exploring the possibility of acquiring assistance from the United States Fish and Wildlife Department as they continue to examine what should be done with Pike Brook Dam.

Village Trustee Ken Bartholomew says he has been in contact with the Fish and Wildlife Department about what services and assistance could be available to Whitehall.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has mandated maintenance repairs be completed on the dam.

Bartholomew said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department may be willing to provide assistance because Pike Brook flows in to Lake Champlain.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department are actively working on removing dams so fish have access to streams in their natural state,” Bartholomew said. “They are hot to take out dams.”

The discussion is still very much in its infancy. Bartholomew has yet to speak directly with the woman in charge of dam removal efforts and admits it may be several months before he does because of a project she is overseeing in Virginia. But at the very least a dialogue has been started.

Bartholomew said the agency has provided different kinds of assistance for similar projects, whether it was helping to locate the right engineering firm to partial and full funding of projects.

“They will help as much as they can,” Bartholomew said.

He said he expects to learn more in the coming months and hopes to speak with Fish and Wildlife representatives later this summer.

Before any decision can be made, officials from the Fish and Wildlife Department would need to study the stream and its surroundings to determine what benefit, if any, could come from removing the dam.

The dam became an issue after the failure of the Hadlock Dam in Fort Ann several years ago.

The disaster, which resulted in the destruction of several homes and washed away parts of several roads, caused state inspectors to take a closer look at dams throughout the state as well as pass tougher, more stringent legislation.

The Pike Brook Dam, which is located on a picturesque 18 acre plot of land on Pike Brook Road, was inspected by the Department of Environmental Conservation which mandated maintenance repairs totaling nearly $500,000.

Instead of fixing the damn at the price, the village listed the property for sale but it has yet to attract a buyer.

“It’s a half million dollar problem on a $50,000 piece of property,” Bartholomew said.

 The other option is to breach the dam but even that comes with its own set of entanglements because the D.E.C. is worried about the silt that may be released if the dam is removed.

There are issues with breaching dams if there is more than a foot of silt behind the dam.  

The dam is believed to have been built around 1924 and is roughly 30 feet high and 75 feet across, and made entirely of concrete. Bartholomew said the dam has about 2.6 million gallons of water behind it.

The dam, which is owned by the Village of Whitehall, was primarily used as a back up source of drinking water but hasn’t been used in over 30 years.

Most of the area surrounding the dam is undeveloped.

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