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Dam removal plans flounder before Easton City Council

By Joe McDonald, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 10 2013 10:47:43 PM CDT
EASTON, Pa. -

Easton City Council, in a marathon 3.5 hour meeting Wednesday night, listened to a raft of reasons for removing two dams on the Lehigh River that proponents claimed would benefit not only shad but the whole economy of the Easton area, bringing jobs, tourism and the potential for Easton to become the “Shad Fishing Capital of the World.”

The idea to rip out the Easton Dam and the Chain Dam for the benefit of the shad was summarized in the 2013 Lehigh River Fish Passage Improvement Feasibility Study, prepared by the Wildlands Conservancy and KCI Technologies.

The plan was ridiculed by Councilman Roger Ruggles, who pointed out what he called were “totally wrong” and “totally inaccurate” scientific statements, and criticized by Mayor Sal Panto Jr. and the city’s Planning and Codes department.

’I think there are a lot of things that are misleading in the report,” Ruggles said.

In a report to council, the Planning and Codes department said the city “cannot support dam removal as a balanced response to fish passage improvement.” It said alternatives need to be explored, a finding echoed by Panto. Panto said the dam at the confluence of the Delaware River and the Lehigh River is an icon in the city’s landscape.

“I think there are alternatives,” Panto said.

In 1994, what where then considered state-of-the-art fish ladders were installed in the river to help shad migrate up river but they were of marginal success because unlike many other migratory fish shad do not jump up stream.

The city’s planning commission has suggested modifications be made to the ladders and devices like rock-ramps, vertical slots or elevators be considered to solve the problem, as has been done in other areas.

The cost of removing the Easton Dam was estimated at $4.5 to $6.4 million, the Chain Dam at $3.4 to $4.8 million. Abigail Pattishall, a vice president with the conservancy, said the funds would be obtained through grants, but Mayor Sal Panto Jr. said he was skeptical there would be that much funding available given the difficult economic times.

 Panto also questioned where the money would come from to build pumping stations to keep water flowing into the city’s historic canals once the dams are removed, a move that could leave the city with a monthly water bill in the tens of thousands of dollars.

“It would not be something we could come to the city to cover the costs,” Pattishall said.

In other action, council accepted the resignation of Councilman Michael Fleck. Two people have applied for the position and Panto said council will interview the applicants on July 23 or July 24.