Our View | It’s time to fix the dam now

July 25, 2013 

As a dam renovation moves forward to keep them dry, some Philipsburg residents already feel soaked.

Homeowners below Cold Stream Dam have complained about their flood insurance premiums rising while the state Department of Environmental Protection and the borough work out the project’s final details.

Apparently, the irate residents think it’s happening too slowly.

They blame the state for their higher bills, charging that DEP has dawdled on its end and wondering if speedier action would have prevented the insurance hikes.

The project has taken a while.

In 2009, the state notified the borough that it needed to upgrade Cold Stream Dam’s spillways or take out the dam and lose the pond, a longtime fishing and recreation spot for locals.

Owned by the borough, the dam is considered a “high hazard” because of the potential destruction and loss of life in the event of a catastrophic structural failure.

Philipsburg, scraping together about $2.65 million in funding, chose to keep the dam and embarked on the renovation.

Since then, the plans have largely been under review by the state — a lag fueling residents’ ire — but the project finally seems to have gained momentum.

Borough engineer John Clabaugh expects to submit the final draft of the project proposal to DEP in September. As it stands now, the timeline calls for bids next year, with construction starting in 2015.

Contrary to homeowners’ contentions, Clabaugh has said Federal Emergency Management Agency revisions of flood risk data — prompted by highway construction and other landscape changes around Cold Stream Dam in the past decade — led to the flood insurance increases.

Regardless of the cause, some Philipsburg residents are paying more to live in the shadow of an officially inadequate dam. They may have a point that the dam could have been fixed more quickly, possibly lowering their insurance, but all that’s water under the spillway, so to speak.

What’s important now is that the state and the borough get the job done as swiftly as possible, preferably starting construction next year rather than drag out the project further.

Delays could mean lost grants, higher project expenses and pricier insurance for the borough, which has its garage in the flood plain.

But more than money, safety remains the primary concern.

Torrential rains this summer, part of a wet season that has caused local flooding, served warning that Philipsburg faces a looming danger that grows as long as the dam stands unrepaired.

Fill out the paperwork, snip the red tape and fix the dam. Time may have been money to some so far, but the costs of poking along could be greater.

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