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Removal of Antietam Creek dam sought

July 08, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- City of Hagerstown and state officials say they would like the owner of a dam on Antietam Creek where a 15-year-old girl almost drowned last month to breach or dismantle the structure.

Maryland Department of the Environment spokeswoman Dawn Stoltzfus said Wednesday the dam, which is near Mount Aetna Road and behind the former Municipal Electric Light Plant, poses a safety hazard.

Officials with MDE and Maryland's Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday they believe removing the dam, or breaching it to return the water flow to a more natural state, would improve public safety.

"We're very encouraged (the state) is taking on this project," Stoltzfus said. "We want to work with the city and property owner."

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City officials said H.D. Thompson of Partners Marketing LLP in Staunton, Va., owns the former MELP building and the nearby dam.

Thompson said Wednesday he hadn't heard from the city or state about the matter.

"I'll wait to comment," Thompson said.

City Engineer Rodney Tissue said removing the dam would not cause the creek to flood. He said representatives from the city and state met at the dam last week to discuss safety issues involving the structure.

In April 1998, a Frederick, Md., man who had been fishing above the dam died after jumping in the water to save his dog, according to newspaper reports. The body of a 33-year-old man was found near the top of the dam in May 2001.

Last month, firefighters rescued a 15-year-old girl from the turbulent waters at the dam's base.

Even small dams like the one at the MELP building can be dangerous because the churning water can pull someone under, much as a washing machine agitates clothes, and prevent them from getting free of the water's pull.

Tissue said he plans to write Thompson a letter to discuss a way to mitigate the danger.

"We felt like we needed to do something here," Tissue said. "We wanted to put the property owner on notice that they should evaluate the situation and take the steps necessary to ensure public safety ... I don't have a problem (with removing) the dam."

Tissue said the City Engineering Department has ordered signs that will say, "No Swimming or Wading Dangerous Currents." The signs will be placed on each end of the dam within the next few weeks, Tissue said.

Another option the city could pursue would be to install fences on each end of the dam to prevent people from walking across the top, said Mike Weller, fire safety educator for the Hagerstown Fire Department.

"I think that would be a good interim solution," Weller said. "The city's ultimate goal is to work collaboratively with the local and state governments and the property owner to make that area safer to the public."

Jim Thompson of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said he also would like to talk to H.D. Thompson about removing the dam.

In addition to enhancing public safety, the dam's removal would improve fish passage in that area of Antietam Creek, Jim Thompson said.

Dam breaches and removals range in cost from $30,000 to $1 million, he said. The dam in question probably would be on the low end of that price range.

Jim Thompson said grants are available to help offset the cost.

The dam is about 10 feet high and 250 feet wide, he said. It was built around 1950.

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