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Pa. residents fight to save their waterfront property

February 19, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

FANNETTSBURG, Pa. - For a while it appeared as if a 70-year-old dam holding back a 65-acre lake on the West Branch of the Conococheague Creek was in the way of a plan to discharge effluent from a new public sewer system and would have to be removed.

The threat of losing their lake caused an uproar among waterfront property owners in this rural northwest Franklin County community.

The threat to the dam stemmed from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Agency orders that the Metal Township Supervisors put in public sewers in Fannettsburg - the first ever for the town, most of which surrounds the lake.

Homes in the community are served by failing private septic systems, according to DEP officials. The sewer system, which will serve about 160 customers, has been in the design stage since 1989, said Township Supervisor Mark Yarish.

The lake was created when John Walker dammed up the creek to make electricity for his private campground in the late 1920s. Walker and his camp are long gone, but his lake remains as a mecca for property owners around it, for fishermen and boaters, and for lovers of wildlife who await the annual visit of swans, geese, ducks and loons.

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The township supervisors and their design engineers, seeking the cheapest way to build the new sewer system, came up with a plan to discharge its effluent into Conococheague Creek. DEP regulations require that the effluent, which leaves the treatment as clean water, be discharged into a free-flowing stream, hence the idea to remove the dam.

A subsequent idea to run an effluent discharge line under the lake to come out below the dam has been scrapped because of the cost. It would nearly double the monthly fees paid by the sewer system's customers, said Anna Swailes, the Metal Township secretary and member of its sewer board.

The latest plan, awaiting DEP approval, involves a compromise system in which effluent from the treatment plant would be sprayed over a grassy field to slowly soak into the ground during warm months. In the winter the effluent could be discharged directly into the creek above the dam because any bacteria would grow too slow in the cold water to do any harm.

In the mid-1970s the then-owner of the dam and lake was ordered by the State Department of Environmental Resources to either repair the dam, which by that time was in poor condition, or have it blown up by the Army Corps of Engineers. The dam, a mix of earth and concrete, is 20 feet high and about 80 feet across.

In 1980 a group called the Fannettsburg Wildlife Foundation was created by a dozen local residents who agreed to repair the dam to state standards and maintain it, said Herman Baker, an original member. Baker, 76, and Raymond Adams are the foundation's only surviving members. The dam has seen little maintenance in recent years, Baker said. Earlier this month Baker and Adams turned over the books and maintenance records to Ivan Mullenix, a waterfront property owner who is recruiting new foundation members to resume maintenance of the dam.

Mullenix said he has about a dozen new members so far, and plans are being drawn up for a summer maintenance schedule.

DEP spokeswoman April Hutcheson said the dam, while it is in a state of disrepair, is considered to be a low-hazard dam in that it poses no eminent threat to life or property downstream.

"Enforcement action is not a priority," she said.

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