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Lehigh River dam removal proposal under fire in Palmer Township

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Jul 08 2013 10:19:53 PM CDT
Palmer Township Supervisors seated at table
PALMER TWP., Pa. -

A study that recommends removal of two dams along the Lehigh River in Northampton County to make it easier for fish to migrate ran into choppy waters in one Northampton County municipality.

Palmer Township supervisors voted unanimously Monday night to send a letter to the Wildlands Conservancy expressing their concerns about proposals by engineering consulting firm KCI Technologies in their Lehigh River Fish Passage Improvement Feasibility Study.

The study suggests spending $12 million to $18 million to get rid of the Easton and Chain dams, which were built on the Lehigh in the 1800s, because they greatly hinder shad and other migratory fishes.

The American shad lives much of its life in the Atlantic Ocean, but must migrate into freshwater rivers and streams to spawn, and before the dams were constructed, shad were abundant and very critical component of the Lehigh River ecosystem, according to the conservancy's Web site. Removing the dams will allow shad and other migratory fish to return to the Lehigh, it says.

Demolishing the dams, said supervisor Robert Lammi, would significantly drop the level of the Lehigh River. "That would totally change what the river looks like, what the canals [in Easton] look like," he said. "The Lehigh River and the canals are what the culture of Easton is based on, what the history of Easton is based on."

Further, he said, if the river's level drops, it will expose piers holding up a former Norfolk and Southern railroad bridge acquired by the township as part of a never-realized Rails to Trails bike path more than four decades ago.

The piers, which are now under water, "will be exposed and scarring will start to occur," he said. "We need to know what can be done to protect them and who will pay for that. Someone has to pay for reconstructing that whole area."

Lammi also said getting water into the Delaware canal would be a problem, noting the study suggests one remedy would be to build one or more pumping stations.
"Who's going to pay for and maintain those pumps?" he asked.

"This may never happen, or it may be years before it does happen," Lammi told his colleagues. "But is important that we indicate our concerns."

Supervisor Robert E. Smith pointed out that lowering the river level significantly would jeopardize the existence of the Bethlehem Boating Club, which is based in Bethlehem Township, saying it "would go away."

He also said a boat launch proposed in Bethlehem Township near the Palmer border as part of a proposed project that would add a new interchange to Route 33 "would not be usable."

Supervisors' chairman David Colver pointed out that no government body has endorsed the study's recommendations and that there is no funding to do the work.

As he ended his presentation, Lammi shook his head at the price tag attached to the study's recommendations, saying, "12 to 18 million? These are some expensive fish!"