RAYNE TOWNSHIP — Indiana County, and more specifically the county’s Parks & Trails department, is facing a sizable expense at the direction of state environmental regulators.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Dam Safety, is requiring an extensive geotechnical investigation of the 106-year-old Cummings Dam and its lake at the county’s Blue Spruce Park.
Ed Patterson, director of Parks & Trails, said an upper-end preliminary estimate on the cost of the geotechnical review could be $250,000 — nearly half of Parks & Trails’ budget for an entire year.
Cummings Dam was built in 1908 to supply clean water for railroad steam locomotives and was enlarged four years later.
Patterson said the dam is inspected annually and has a “high hazard” classification with DEP because of its age. In 2008 the county spent about $240,000 — much of it supplied by a grant — to replace the underwater sluice gates that allow water to drain through the base of the dam. DEP requested the gate replacements as part of the agency’s efforts to improve dam safety throughout the state.
Other than the old, rusty gates, Cummings Dam was considered structurally sound.
Some repairs were also made to the dam in 1966 when the county acquired the property.
The geotechnical review required by DEP will be more extensive than the routine annual safety inspections and will involve taking core samples of concrete from the dam and calculating the amount of water in the watershed behind the dam.
Patterson said Gibson-Thomas Engineering Company of Latrobe, the county’s consulting engineers, estimated the cost of preliminary engineering work before the geotechnical investigation would be about $25,300. The detailed geotechnical review might cost $125,000 to $250,000, Patterson said. The Parks & Trails annual budget is about $630,000.
Patterson said there are no deadlines on performing the geotechnical investigation, but DEP officials will likely want to see progress made on getting the study done.
“This is just one dam in Pennsylvania,” Patterson said, and an obvious question is, “How are you going to fund this?”
One option, Patterson said, is to once again look for grants.
Patterson said Blue Spruce Lake was about 17 acres in size many years ago, but as silt collected in its upper end it has shrunk to about 12 acres. The water is 32 feet deep at the spillway but much of the lake is very shallow.
Water from a ruptured Cummings Dam would flow to Creekside, about 1 1/2 miles away. But before it arrived there it would flow through woods, over wide farm fields and along the Crooked Creek channel.
Patterson said the requirement to perform the geotechnical review of the dam comes when the top maintenance priority for Parks & Trails is the resurfacing of the Hoodlebug Trail, especially the section between Indiana and Homer City.
The Hoodlebug this year is 14 years old and has 80,000 users annually, Patterson said.