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Mayor ends big debate over little dam

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:54:09 AM CST
Updated On: Aug 30 2013 05:34:45 PM CDT

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski says a plan to remove two dams along the Little Lehigh Creek can move forward.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Mayor Ed Pawlowski is telling Wildlands Conservancy to proceed with removing two small dams in Allentown's Lehigh Parkway.

"We're thrilled," said Kristie Fach, director of ecological restoration at Wildlands Conservancy. "We're looking forward to continuing all the great work."

Fach said both dams will be removed in September, restoring natural, free-flowing conditions to that stretch of Little Lehigh Creek.

City Council's parks and recreation committee held an hour-long public meeting about the fate of the dams on Wednesday. All seven members of City Council attended that meeting. The mayor did not attend but promised he would review facts presented and make an announcement by the end of this week.

“The feedback that I received from members of City Council indicated overwhelming support of the plan to remove the dams," said the mayor in a statement released Friday afternoon that declared: "Pawlowski tells Wildlands to proceed."

The mayor agreed to have the conservancy take out the dams several years ago, but their scheduled removal this summer was delayed after city resident Michael Molovinsky objected to removing the dam in the Robin Hood area of the parkway.

In May, Molovinsky told City Council the dam had historical significance--  that it was built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration -- and that removing it could jeopardize the structural integrity of the Robin Hood bridge just above it.

The Wildlands Conservancy and the city's administration refuted both concerns Wednesday night, saying an engineering investigation determined removing the dam will not threaten the bridge during high water and that the dam was built in 1945 by the U.S. Geological Survey for a metering station, which is still used.

Molovinsky said he was disappointed but not surprised by the mayor's decision.

In his blog, Molovinsky on Allentown, he wrote: "Unfortunately for Allentown's magnificent park system, we have people making decisions who have no real feel for the parks or their history. They will continue to be used for agendas for which they were not intended. Each of these uses diminishes the public's right to enjoyment and access."

No one objected to removal of the second parkway dam, which is along Fish Hatchery Road near the trout nursery. The mayor's statement explained that dam was built to create a water supply source for the trout nursery, but no longer has been needed since the nursery began using a a spring that provides 45-degree water, free of storm-event silt and summer warming.

Fach said the conservancy will remove the Robin Hood dam in the second or third week in September and the Fish Hatchery dam by the end of September.

Before Molovinsky raised his objections, the conservancy intended to remove both dams back in July. The administration asked for the delay until City Council held a public meeting on the issue.

"I want to thank City Councilwoman Cynthia Mota and City Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee for conducting a fact-finding hearing on the issue,” Pawlowski said in his statement

The mayor also thanked members of the city’s Environmental Advisory Council "for taking a leadership role in the discussion. I appreciate the opinions of all those who weighed-in as part of the process.”

The mayor acknowledged that many dams are "a nostalgic throwback to an earlier era" but reported that removing dams in Pennsylvania to improve water quality and eliminate safety hazards is not new.

"There are an estimated 7,000 dams in the Commonwealth, and the Pennylvania Fish and Boat Commission, along with many conservation organizations and other state agencies have been funding their removal for decades."

The mayor's statement explains impounding streams with dams  has "profound, negative" environmental effects. They include warming of the stream,  build-up of sediment behind the dam structure, reduced oxygen, lower biodiversity and prohibiting fish migration "to take advantage of optimum stream temperatures and current, feeding and spawning grounds. There are also ongoing studies to suggest genetic isolation and weakening of species’ strains."

Wildlands Conservancy already has removed the dam across Jordan Creek  in Allentown's Jordan Park.  It still plans to remove three more dams across Jordan Creek in Whitehall Township this year, including the dam next to MacArthur Road.

It also plans to remove two more dams farther upstream on the Little Lehigh -- one on private property and one owned by Lower Macungie Township -- but Fach said it's not certain those two still will be removed this year.