New Developments With Penn Lake
Dam and Spillway Improvement Project

Updated October 16, 2021

 Public Meeting Held  on October 10

On Sunday, October 10 around 60 residents attended the Second Annual Public Q&A Session with the Penn Lake Dam Advisory Group.  At that session:
  • Dan George, a member of the Dam Advisory Group provided a recap of the progress on the project during the last calendar year.
  • Jim Brozena, the consultant hired by the Borough Council to assist with grant writing, informed the audience of the results of the applications the Borough submitted in November 2020. The Borough should soon receive official notification of a grant in the amount of $301,000 which will  be used towards the pre-construction investigation phase of the project which is currently underway.  Mr. Brozena also discussed the Borough’s and Dam Advisory Group’s plans to submit federal grant applications again this year.
  • The engineers from Streamline and Thoroughbred, who have been hired to conduct the pre-construction investigation phase of the project, explained the importance of the surveys and studies they are conducting in making their recommendations regarding viable and cost-effective solutions to address the problems that have been identified with the dam.  Copies of the slides presented by the engineers are available here.   The engineers anticipate having their analyses completed and their recommendations formulated sometime early in 2022.
If you were unable to attend the public meeting, a video recording of it is available here.
Engineering Work Has Begun
In September, engineers from Streamline and Thoroughbred were onsite conducting the surveys, hydrology and hydraulics and geotechnical studies, wetlands delineations and other pre-construction activities required to formulate their recommendations regarding possible solutions to address Penn Lake’s dam and spillway deficiencies.  Thoroughbred’s geotechnical studies are still underway.
2021 Grant Applications
Several preliminary steps have been taken towards submission of federal grant applications this year.  Specifically, Councilman Paul Rogan spoke with the Director of Dam Safety at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding possible grant programs that might be applicable.  He suggested the High Hazard Potential Grant Program (HHPD) could be an option.
“Letters of interest” were  filed for two federal grants:  1.) FEMA/PEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) grants; and 2.) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMPG), which operates similarly to the FEMA BRIC and FMA grants.  Penn Lake is a subapplicant to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association (PEMA), which is the applicant on behalf of the whole state.   Note that the $301,000 awarded to Penn Lake  this year was from the Borough’s 2020 FMA grant application.

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Click images to enlarge.

Drained Lake Gallery 2006

Photos taken October, 2006

Background Information/Timeline of Dam and Spillway Improvement Project

Interaction with Pennsylvania DEP (Department of Environmental Protection)

On March 30, 2020 Penn Lake Borough was notified by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that it had designated Penn Lake dam as Unsafe. This designation does not mean that the dam is at risk for imminent failure.  But, it is 115 years old and does not meet the requirements of the Pennsylvania Dam Safety and Encroachment Act.  It is classified by the DEP as a “High Hazard Dam” because there are numerous homes that would be risk downstream if the dam failed.

In May 2020 the Borough contracted with Borton Lawson Engineering for a comprehensive assessment of the dam and to recommend repair alternatives and estimates of probable costs.  Borton-Lawson provided their report to the Borough on July 31.  That report and assessment was also sent to the PA DEP.  The least expensive alternative to address the dam deficiencies is estimated to cost $1.9 million.

On August 19, 2020 there was a meeting with the PA DEP.  The DEP had no concerns with the $1.9 million solution proposed by Borton-Lawson and is not requiring us to drain the lake prior to the commencement of dam improvements.

In January 2021, Richard Reisinger, DEP Dam Safety Director, asked for a status report. The Borough responded that:

  • an RFP for pre-construction engineering services is being developed by members of the dam advisory group and should be ready in early February;
  • a second RFP is planned for detailed design work which we estimate will be awarded sometime in the summer;
  • two FEMA grant applications were submitted;
  • the referendum allowing the Borough to borrow up to $3 million to address the deficiencies identified by the DEP was overwhelmingly passed by the voters in the Borough;
  • the Borough set 4.6 mils as the tax rate for 2021, with 4.2 mills dedicated by ordinance to dam repair and debt service;
  • the Borough expects to spend $200,000 for engineering services on the dam project in each of 2021 and 2022 and construction will likely begin in 2023.

On Friday, February 12 members of the Dam Advisory Group met via Zoom with Richard Reisinger, Chief of the Division of Dam Safety for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, to review the status of the dam project.  The RFP for the investigation phase of the pre-construction engineering services, which was put together by members of the Dam Advisory Group, was shared with Mr. Reisinger and we informed him of the grant applications we submitted.  He was very complimentary of the work done in preparing the RFP, offered to review any further changes to the RFP and encouraged us to keep the project moving forward. Prior to the meeting, he informed us that he did not believe that any of the Pennsylvania Act 13 grant programs would be a fit for our dam project.

Public Outreach Regarding Dam and Spillway Improvement Project

In April 2020 the Dam Advisory Group was formed.  The purpose of the group is to guide the Borough in responding to the deficiencies outlined by the DEP and to keep the community informed of developments to address those deficiencies.  The group distributed the following pamphlets to the community.


VIEW THE “What’s Happening With The Dam?” DOCUMENT

On September 3, 2020 a public meeting was held at the ballfield to inform the community about the developments with the dam and to get community input. A recording of it is available here:


A public Q&A Session with the Dam Advisory Committee was held on October 10, 2020.    A recording of the session is available by clicking on the links below.

October 2020 Public Q&A Session – Part 1

October 2020 Public Q&A Session – Part 2

October 2020 Public Q&A Session – Part 3

Written answers to questions submitted prior to the meeting are available here.

The Second Annual Public Q&A Session with the Dam Advisory Committee was held on October 10, 2021.  A recording of the session is available by clicking here.  The slides presented by the Streamline engineers at the meeting are available here.

Tax Increase to Pay for Dam and Spillway Improvement Project

On August 13, 2020 the Borough Council passed a resolution to place the following question on the ballot for the November 33, 2020 election.

Shall debt in the sum of up to $3 million dollars for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a dam to control and conserve Penn Lake be authorized to be incurred as debt approved by the electors of the Penn Lake Park Borough?

This ballot question was required because the Borough Council cannot legally incur debt over a certain amount without the approval of the community.

On November 3, 2020 the referendum authorizing the Borough to incur debt up to $3 million to address the dam deficiencies identified by the DEP was overwhelmingly passed by the voters in the Borough, 222-23.

FEMA Grant Applications

In mid November, 2020, the Borough submitted two grant applications to PEMA:  1.) a BRIC (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) grant which was submitted as a two-phase project with a total request of $9,877,000; and 2.) a FMA (Flood Mitigation Assistance) grant for a project plan development request of $301,000.  PEMA review of the applications began on December 15, 2020.

On January 29, 2021 the Borough was notified that both applications made it through PEMA review and were submitted to FEMA.

On February 16, 2021 Rep. Matt Cartwright (D. – 8th Dist. Penna.) sent a letter in support of our BRIC application to the Senior Official Performing the Duties of FEMA Administrator.

On July 1, 2021, the Borough was informed of a probable FEMA FMA (Flood Mitigation Assistance) grant in the amount of $301,000.  There are still a few issues to be resolved but the grant should be awarded soon.  This grant requires a 25% match, which means the Borough is responsible for $75,250.  This grant and match money will be used to pay for the initial engineering assessment.

On July 8, the Borough Council approved a motion to accept a proposal from Jim Brozena to act as grant manager.  Mr. Brozena is a consultant who was instrumental in putting together the Borough’s grant applications

Investigation Stage of Pre-Construction Engineering Services

On April 19, 2021 the RFP for Investigation Stage of Pre-Construction Engineering Services Was Sent to Eighteen Engineering Firms and Placed on PennBid. PennBid is a cloud-based bid management system that matches buyers and sellers of good and services.  It is used by many Pennsylvania municipalities.  A mandatory pre-proposal meeting/site visit was held on May 4 for firms that plan to submit a proposal.   Eighteen firms attended.  Seven proposals were received.  Four firms were invited to attend face-to-face interviews.

In late June 2021, the Dam Advisory Group chose the proposal submitted by Streamline Engineering and Thoroughbred EngineeringNot only was their proposal the best in terms of price, a strong consensus emerged that the Borough’s best interest would be served by contracting with them as they demonstrated a good understanding of the Borough’s needs.  Thoroughbred engineering will conduct the geotechnical aspects of the engineering assessment.

Streamline Engineering and Thoroughbred Engineering began survey and geotechnical work at the lake and along Wright’s Creek on September 13, 2021.  Their specific tasks for this onsite visit were as follows:

Week of September 13-17

  • Lakeview Drive survey, dam to spillway
  • Bathymetric survey of Penn Lake
  • Geophysical surveys of Penn Lake Dam
  • Wetland investigations at the dam and spillway areas
  • “Dead Lake” area survey
  • Wright’s Creek survey from Penn Lake to Lehigh River

Week of September 20-24

  • Geotechnical drilling program at Penn Lake Dam
  • “Dead Lake” area survey
  • Wright’s Creek survey from Penn Lake to Lehigh River

Line of Credit

On May 13, 2021 Borough Council passed an ordinance allowing it to contract for a $3 million line of credit.  Such an ordinance is required by  Pennsylvania law.

On June 10, 2021 final settlement occurred on the $3 million line of credit for dam repairs which the Borough secured from Luzerne Bank.  Among other things, this line of credit will be used to pay for the initial engineering assessment.