For years, the reconstruction of the Wehr Dam has been going on, despite a 2016 referendum in which residents voted overwhelmingly for rehabilitation rather than removal.
That is about to change.
The South Whitehall Council of Commissioners on Wednesday approved a schedule for collecting proposals to begin work on the reconstruction of the nearly 118-year-old dam, and the opening of applications is scheduled for June 6.
Then at a meeting on June 15, the Council will conclude a contract for the work.
The status of the dam has slowed down in the “old business” section of the agenda of the South Whitehall meetings after voting in a referendum in 2016. But last year a key barrier to obtaining permits was removed, and on Wednesday commissioners took the next step toward rebuilding the dam.
Now some residents of the village, who consider the dam a value – especially those who are part of the movement “Save the Dam Faith” – are ready to see it polished to a shine.
“It’s very interesting to see how this project has come to fruition,” said Commissioner-designate Diane Kelly.
The township has budgeted $ 850,000 for the renovation: $ 250,000 has been set aside over the past few years in a limited fund earmarked for the project and $ 600,000 provided through bond refinancing, said Randy Cope, the township’s interim head.
According to him, the engineering firm Michael Baker International has a contract to oversee the project.
Work should begin in July and take up to five months, Cope said, with about four to six weeks spent in the stream.
“We will definitely go out and run as soon as possible,” he said.
He said that the repairs of the lawn where the equipment will be delivered were taken into account.
Rehabilitation will take place after years of discussions about the status of the dam, starting in 2014, when the Wildlands Conservation Service appealed to South Whitehall to remove it, citing its negative impact on Jordan Creek’s health.
Residents opposed the proposalappearing at a meeting with posters and T-shirts with the words “Save the Dam Faith”.
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The Wildlands Conservancy commissioned an engineering study who found faults and missing pieces of concrete and water seepage under and through the structure.
The 2012 Department of the Environment’s inspection report found that the Vera Dam was in “generally good condition,” but also noted that the material under the right depression needed to be replaced and cracks needed to be repaired. Regular DEP inspections do not include underwater inspections, as was the Wildlands Conservancy study.
The Wildlands study, sponsored by the DEP, predicted that removing the dam would cost up to $ 623,000 and a full-scale fix would cost up to $ 951,000.
In March 2015 the commissioners undertook to preserve the dam. Michael Baker International was hired to conduct its own research and cost estimates. He presented three options – complete removal, removal and restoration or partial demolition and repair – and recommended a partial replacement plan that would cost approximately $ 588,000.
In November 2016, as a result of a referendum, 53% of voters supported a $ 600,000 loan to renovate the dam instead of dismantling it.
Cost estimates have increased since Michael Baker’s initial forecast of $ 588,000.
Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer for The Morning Call.