Many area residents said they think business, recreation and tourism might be threatened if a proposal to lower Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir is rolled out.
The move could raise a number of issues, such as the possible closure of the Howard Boat Club, limited access to water for the Howard Fire Company, and the potential cancellation of the department’s biggest annual fundraiser, the Punkin Chunkin’ Festival.
“We use the lake for everything, and this is a big concern,” Howard Fire Company President Mark Ott said. “The area is starting to bounce back and this could hinder growth.”
Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir is a 1,730-acre waterway formed after a dam was built against Bald Eagle Creek by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1960s.
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The Howard Boat Club, located at a marina near West End Park partially within Howard borough and Howard Township, is generally filled to capacity. But club Secretary and Treasurer Butch Hanley said he fears there will be no use for the marina if the plan moves forward.
If they lower the dam then there will be no more Howard Boat Club. It won’t be good for us if they drop it by nine feet, not if they drop it by two feet. That means we’re out of business because we can’t put boats in or take them out
Butch Hanley, Howard Boat Club secretary/treasurer
“If they lower the (water levels) then there will be no more Howard Boat Club,” he said. “It won’t be good for us if they drop it by 9 feet, if they drop it by 2 feet. That means we’re out of business because we can’t put boats in or take them out.”
Hanley was one of the first people to RSVP to a public meeting scheduled for the end of the month that will likely address the proposal and feasibility study.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission have established a project modification plan to improve the environment.
According to a document released earlier this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the latest phase of the project includes the study to determine if operation of the reservoir, including water release protocol, can be modified to improve the quality of the environment in the reservoir and in the downstream ecosystem.
Reservoir annually lowered by 20 feet during winter and early spring
The reservoir is annually drawn down by 20 feet in late fall or early winter, and returned back to normal levels by late spring.
“The ecosystem may benefit from a more constant year-round pool and some potential environmental medications,” the document said.
While the U.S Army Corps of Engineers sites a low flow augmentation could best benefit downstream ecosystem, some locals are concerned if this would be a trend at other reservoirs and dams in the commonwealth, and also what other negative impacts it would impose on area residents.
Ott said the fire department uses the reservoir for multiple purposes, including water rescue and training; water usage for fire emergencies; and a place to hold the Punkin Chunkin’ Festival, which he said is the department’s biggest annual fundraiser.
Sayers lake used for recreation, business and more, including water-rescue training for the Howard Fire Company
The department uses water from the reservoir when servicing nearby areas that don’t have access to a hydrant by accessing the reservoir from a nearby marina.
That could mean that if the water is lowered, there would likely be no easy assess to the reservoir near the marina without the risk of getting stuck in the mud, Ott said.
“We’re not sure what we would do if that happens,” he said.
The goal each year is to raise about $25,000 for the fire company through money raised at the Punkin Chunkin’ Festival — an annual event held at the beach area of Bald Eagle State Park where participants launch pumpkins as far as possible into the reservoir.
Waterway is also home to annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ Fest
Fire company members previously met with park management who requested the launch of pumpkins to be away from land and into the water to avoid the growth of pumpkins on park land.
“If that’s the case, we would have no place to throw our pumpkins,” Ott said. “It would just turn into a mudflat if the water is lowered, and the park didn’t want us to throw on land to begin with.”
The feasibility study, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, could be completed in 2018.
What: Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir public meeting
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 30
Where: Howard Elementary School, 255 School St., Howard
Contact: RSVP by Aug. 25 to Hilary Hollier at firstname.lastname@example.org