There may be light at the end of the tunnel for Philipsburg’s long-delayed Cold Stream Dam improvement project, which has been in the works since 2009.
The state Department of Environmental Protection changed its dam specification requirements after Hurricane Katrina, according to borough Manager Joel Watson. Under the new specifications, the dam spillway isn’t wide enough for the stream that feeds it.
A spillway controls the release of water from a dam to a downstream area.
“This rule change is what necessitated an expansion of the spillway capacity,” engineer John Clabaugh said. “That’s the primary focus of the project — to upgrade the dam to meet the modified rule.”
The dam itself is not in disrepair, Clabaugh said, and not in any imminent danger of breach. From a structural standpoint, the dam is safe, just not compliant with DEP dam safety requirements.
For now, Watson said, the borough is working on extending funding for the project.
The borough has set aside about $2.2 million, he said, and a state grant covers about 75 percent of the cost. The borough will come up with the rest.
But the grant expires in March, he said — not enough time for a contractor to finish the project. Any contractor who doesn’t complete it on time could face substantial penalties. This had led to an issue with bidding the project out, as most contractors have been chased away by the restrictive timeline.
When the job was put out the bid June 15, only one contractor bid on the job at a cost of about $4.8 million — substantially more than the borough had initially set aside for the project.
“(A contractor) would need at least one construction season to complete the dam due to the amount of concrete work,” Watson said. “Then you have to add in weather-related issues like all the rain we’ve been getting lately.”
If the borough could get an extension on the grant, he said, possibly even just until December 2016, that would give a contractor a full season to get the job done within the price range the borough has in mind. The borough has been working with legislators, including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, to stretch the deadline.
Conklin, who was in Harrisburg on Monday working on the state budget, said he was contacted by borough officials about two weeks ago asking for help to extend the deadline. He has since contacted the governor’s office, DEP and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources regarding the grant.
“As of right now, we’re feeling very confident that we’re going to be able to give them a one-year extension,” he said. “It hasn’t yet been verified, but I’m confident they’ll be able to work it out.”
He wasn’t able to say when an answer on the extension would come through, because all departments are tied up with budget negotiations this week.
A second option the borough looked at when the issue with the dam first came up would be to drain the dam and return it to a natural stream, Watson said. But that would cost the borough more than $500,000 with no help from a grant.
“Then we would just end up with no dam and half a million spent,” he said.