Philipsburg dam project back on track

The Cold Stream Dam in Philipsburg has been drained.
The Cold Stream Dam in Philipsburg has been drained. CDT photo

Some financial reshuffling has put the Philipsburg Cold Stream Dam improvement project back on track as construction may begin before the end of the month.

A Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development grant, earmarked to fund the dam project, was awarded to the borough as a funding source. But the grant came with a March 2016 deadline, giving the borough until that date to complete the project.

The borough has set aside about $2.2 million, Manager Joel Watson said in July, and a state grant covers about 75 percent of the cost. When the job was put out for bid in June, 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.

Without a full construction season to complete the work, Philipsburg was in danger of losing the grant.

But after a modification request by the borough — along with some legislative effort, engineer John Clabaugh said — negotiations led to a new grant package that will take over for the original grant on the day of expiration.

“The additional package will be for the exact amount of the outstanding amount on the original grant at that day,” he said. “The program now falls within the allowable budget the borough set for the project.”

With this new funding, the borough received 11 bids on the project, Watson said. The winning bid was awarded to Charles Merlo Inc. at a bid of $2.3 million, borough secretary Shelley Walstrom said.

Merlo will be permitted to start work as early as the end of the month, Clabaugh said, and is required to begin construction by March when the original grant would have expired.

For now, he said, the borough has drained the dam and is waiting for work to begin.

“In initial conversations with the contractor,” he said, “their intent is to begin work and get as much done as they can based on the weather they’re encountering.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection changed its dam specification requirements after Hurricane Katrina, Watson said. Under the new specifications, the dam spillway isn’t wide enough for the stream that feeds it.

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.