Speak out about Sayers Dam at tonight’s workshop

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission will host a public workshop tonight at the Bald Eagle Area Middle School and High School to explore operational alternatives and a feasibility study at the Foster J. Sayers Dam and Reservoir at Howard.

The Corps and SRBC have indicated that the study will determine whether there are alternatives that would benefit the reservoir and downstream environmental resources, while “avoiding impacts to recreation and flood control functions of the reservoir.”

However, the news of this plan has raised many concerns.

Questions range from the economic and environmental impacts, to safety and the operations of the Howard Volunteer Fire Co.

Our firefighters use the reservoir as a water source and also perform rescue training exercises on the lake. Penn State University also conducts research at the reservoir.

I remain concerned that the Corps and SRBC do not have a historical frame of reference to grasp the significant health complaints and dust that resulted in early drawdowns of the lake decades ago.

The health impacts were coupled with tremendous economic losses when lake levels were reduced by mere feet.

These shortsighted actions led to an agreement with the Borough of Howard for the first reductions to occur after November 15, taking water levels from 630 feet to 625 feet.

This plan has worked.

For these reasons, I have voiced my concerns extensively with Colonel Edward P. Chamberlayne, Commander of the Army Corps Baltimore District, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Drawdown of the reservoir after November 15 has maximized summer and fall recreational access.

Today, there are more than 50,000 visitors to Sayers, which lends economic support to the surrounding area.

Individuals come from all over to enjoy the lake during summer months, but recreation continues well into the fall.

The Howard Volunteer Fire Co. conducts an October fundraiser at the State Park called “Pumpkin Chunkin.” This event raises as much as $25,000 to fund the area emergency services.

The schedule has timed well with the onset of colder temperatures and has prevented the dust issue that previously blanketed the Howard Borough and was suspected to be a contributing factor in several negative health situations in the area.

While minor changes may seem trivial to governmental agencies from outside the area, for those who live in our community, the impacts are obvious.

Pennsylvania’s second largest industry is tourism, and in the 1960s, when eminent domain took farms and businesses for construction of the lake, tourism was the government’s promise to backfill the economy.

These are just some of the reasons why I am disappointed that the Corps and the SRBC have decided to move forward with this study.

While I am working to receive assurances that our pre-existing agreements will be followed, I encourage my neighbors and those who enjoy the recreational opportunities the dam provides to voice their concerns with the Corps and SRBC.

Please send a clear message to them that we have been working for decades in a responsible manner to balance flood control with the economic, environmental and health concerns.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson represents the Fifth Congressional District encompassing all or parts of 16 counties in Northwestern and Central Pennsylvania, including Centre and Clinton counties.

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