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County OKs repairs for Devil's Backbone Dam

Option estimated to cost $1.4 million

July 27, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
  • Devil's Backbone Park is along Md. 68 near Lappans Crossroads in southern Washington County.
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The Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with repairing Devil's Backbone Dam, using concrete reinforcement on the back of the dam and natural stone restoration on the front.

The decision brings to an end years of discussion about how to address the deteriorating county-owned dam, including vigorous debate in recent months over the benefits of repairing versus removing the structure.

The dam is in Devil's Backbone Park on Antietam Creek, near Boonsboro, and the Maryland Department of the Environment has ordered the county to address it within an aggressive timeframe.

The option selected by the commissioners was estimated at about $1.4 million for design and construction. That is about $550,000 more than the estimated $845,000 cost of repairing the dam by encasing it in concrete, but less than the estimates for removing or partially removing the dam, which were $2.6 million and $1.8 million, respectively.

The Maryland Historical Trust has signed off that the more-expensive repair method, with stone restoration on the face of the dam, would have no adverse effect on the dam's historic properties. Without that approval, the project would have to go through a historic review process and conduct mitigation that could cost about $75,000 and set the project back six months, said Robert J. Slocum, deputy director of public works.

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The Maryland Historical Trust, which must review the project as part of a state approval process, is unlikely to agree to the concrete encapsulation repair method when the stone restoration option is available, said Joseph Kroboth III, the county's public works director.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to go forward with the MHT-approved repair option, with Commissioner William J. Wivell opposed.

Wivell said he favored a partial removal because he thought that was the most cost-efficient in the long run.

The estimated cost for the desired repairs is greater than the county's budget for the project, but the county might be able to make up the difference with Program Open Space funds left over from another project, Kroboth said.

The county's existing budget for the project is $1.3 million, with $570,000 from the county's general fund, $550,000 in state capital program funding and $180,000 in Program Open Space funding.

Including the $75,000 already spent on an alternative analysis and partial design process, the repairs will cost $1,540,000, leaving a $240,000 budget gap, Kroboth said.

The county has about $293,000 in Program Open Space funds left over from a community gym project at Eastern Primary School and could probably get state approval to apply $240,000 of that surplus to the dam project, he said.

The commissioners also agreed to consider several improvements to Devil's Backbone Park suggested by members of the Antietam Creek Watershed Alliance. The watershed alliance had advocated for removing the dam, but as a compromise, the group's president suggested several other changes that could be rolled into the dam repair project to benefit the group's stream restoration efforts, Slocum said.

Those items were:

o Safe landing and portage areas for canoes and kayaks to put in and take out upstream from the dam

o A safe walking pathway between the upper and lower parking areas

o Additional trees and vegetation throughout the park

o Historical plaques interpreting the site's history

o Replacement of the gabion baskets downstream of the dam with a more natural stabilization measure

The commissioners directed staff to request estimates for some of those items, including the portage areas and walkway, as part of the dam repair contract bid process for possible inclusion in the project.

The other items can be considered as potential projects in the future, Commissioner James F. Kercheval said.

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