Cold Stream Dam project delays pinching Philipsburg residents

While Philipsburg waits for the next steps in the Cold Stream Dam improvement project to be OK’d by the state, some residents are starting to wonder if delays are affecting their insurance bills.

The municipality has been working on the project since 2009. The dam is classified as a high hazard due to the amount of property below it that could be damaged and the number of lives that could be lost in the event of a failure. That, coupled with Department of Environmental Protection changes to the criteria for spillways, demanded that the borough make the changes or take out the dam that has been the centerpiece of the borough’s largest recreation area for decades.

Philipsburg opted to keep Cold Stream Dam, taking out bonds and getting grant financing from the Commonwealth Financing Authority four years ago.

Since then, the ball has been largely in the state’s court, until engineer John Clabaugh was given the project back to make a final draft and return to DEP, which he expects to do by September.

But the council reported this week that some residents have seen increases in their flood insurance and think that state’s slow progress is hurting their wallets.

Clabaugh said that technology is the culprit, not any foot-dragging by the commonwealth. He said the increases in insurance would reflect more accurate data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“The new maps are always changing,” he said. “And they tweak the design storm.” When FEMA plans for bad things to happen, officials look at how bad things have hit the area in the past, modeling based on a 50-year or 100-year storm. Then they also take into account other changes to the landscape with new construction or infrastructure. When Hurricane Isabel hit Pennsylvania in September 2004, for example, it was the first major storm to go through Philipsburg since the state Department of Transportation’s bypass project, and the changes to U.S. Route 322 made a big difference in how water flowed through the area.

“It’s all about contours,” said Clabaugh.

“We are in the same spot,” said Councilman Walt Chorle.

The borough’s garage near Powerhouse Field lies within the flood plain, and Philipsburg’s own insurance is affected by it.

But a delay in the project does have other potential ramifications.

“Any time we file an extension for the CFA grant, there is a chance they could say no,” said Clabaugh. “The longer this takes, the more it endangers our funding stream.”

Right now, the project has $2.65 million available. About $160,000 is above and beyond the breastwork and other required improvements, money that council wants to use for dredging the bottom of the lake. Delays also make the project cost more, since it was originally proposed with 2009’s costs. A longer timeline can eat into that cushion and affect the dredging.