The Army Corps of Engineers is taking public comment on the state's $3 million plan to dredge the Schuylkill River and remove the Kernsville Dam, an area near the dangerously popular Peace Rock.

The area was made famous in a 2016 viral video showing people jumping from the 40-foot outcropping known for the peace sign spray painted on its face. The video also depicted people using the dam breast as a water slide. 

The dam on the Schuylkill River in Tilden Township near Route 61 and the Berks/Schuylkill county line has been the site of numerous injuries over the years. The site of four drownings since 2009, the area was declared off limits by the state in August 2016. Police continue to have to crack down on violators.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is proposing a project to dredge an 8-acre impoundment area near the dam, including the historic Schuylkill River channel, and remove what it calls the dam. The project area is located along the Schuylkill River in Tilden and Windsor Townships

The project is a complete removal of the exposed portions of the dam including removal of about 75,000 cubic yards of accumulated sediments from the main floodway area of the river.

The foundation of the dam below the river bed level will remain in place. The work will be accomplished in two phases: the hydraulic dredging of sediment and the removal of the dam.

The proposed project is in the permitting and final design process, said John Repetz, community relations coordinator in DEP's southcentral regional office.

"We estimate dredging work will begin in June 2021, with dam removal starting in the fall of 2021, and the work completed in summer 2022," Repetz said. "The project's estimated cost is approximately $3 million."

Repetz said that in the short term impacts would be related to the activities at the construction site, which would require the public to avoid the work area for safety reasons.

"As for the long term, the reservoir would be removed and that area would naturally be restored to a free flowing riverine system similar to other non-dammed areas on the river and promote the passage of aquatic life," Repetz said.

The dam was built in 1949 to capture coal dirt washing down from coal mines in Schuylkill County, but it has outlived that purpose as those mines have since shut down. The desilting project is considered one of the first large-scale environmental cleanups in the United States.

The state conducted a stakeholders meeting last year in which some historians questioned the wisdom of demolishing a historic structure, but local authorities want the dam removed to discourage the dangerous swimming. 

According to permit documents, the sediment will be removed by hydraulic dredging. It will be piped approximately 1 mile to the southeast, just north of the Interstate 78 bridge, to an existing, historic disposal basin. A 2018 study of the sediment showed potential contaminant concentrations fell below threshold numbers for concern.

The dam removal process will include the removal and disposal of left and right concrete abutments and removal and disposal of the  concrete spray walls.

Additionally, dam removal will include the removal and disposal of a 380 foot long by 10 foot high concrete spillway and a 220-foot long by 20-foot high concrete spillway. The concrete rubble will be placed in the plunge pool below the dam in an effort to return the Schuylkill River to its historic channel. This will impact about an acre of the Schuylkill River. After the plunge pool is filled with rubble, the plunge pool will be capped and seeded.

The state also wants to remove and dispose of related infrastructure, including floodlights, hand railings, pipe drains, water stops, stop log guides, stop log frames, cable guide rail, floodlight corrugated metal sleeves, buoys, reinforcement steel, cable winch, drum, steel framing, concrete foundations, a concrete boat ramp and boat slip walls. The site will then be excavated and graded.

In its permit application to the Army Corps, DEP said the dam removal was necessary to "eliminate issues surrounding trespassing and the inherent safety issues this causes, most notably unauthorized swimming in the Schuylkill River. Additionally, the head waters of the Schuylkill River is no longer dominated by the coal mining industry and the dam no longer serves its design function to capture coal fines."

Removing the dam will open up the Schuylkill for paddlers and other recreational navigation on the Schuylkill River and help restore fish passage on the river. 

After the dam removal project is completed, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will acquire the encompassing property from the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation. The property will be designated as a green public recreation area, with uses including, hiking, biking, and bird watching. 

The Army Corps of Engineers is accepting comments until July 31. Due to COVID-19, comments on the proposed work are encouraged to be submitted, by email, to PhiladelphiaDistrictRegulatory@usace.army.mil

For more details go to https://www.nap.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices/

 

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