PATTON (TNS) — Local sportsmen and flood-prone neighbors faced off this week as Patton Borough Council approved a plan to remove the Chest Creek dam.
The final agreement approved Tuesday with American Rivers will allow the national river conservation group to begin engineering work to remove the dam later this year, council President Donald Kirk said. The entire $80,000 project is being funded by American Rivers.
Located just upstream from the Magee Avenue, Route 36, bridge over Chest Creek, the dam’s pool formerly provided intake for the borough’s water supply. It became obsolete when the community switched to more cost-effective wells a few years ago.
Last year, council approved American Rivers’ proposal to remove the dam to create an open stream through the borough.
The organization’s website says its mission is “to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature.”
Removing the dam will improve the ecosystem because dams create barriers to wildlife movement and artificially increase water temperatures, Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, director of river restoration, told The Tribune-Democrat in March.
But a group of about six Patton residents said they have enjoyed fishing and relaxing at the dam’s small pool for years.
“It’s part of this town,” Richard Weakland said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s part of our lives. We enjoy being up there and fishing up there. We stock it (with trout) and take care of it.”
More than a dozen neighbors in the Fifth Avenue and Mellon Avenue areas pointed to times when excessive rains sent the dam’s pool over railroad tracks and into their neighborhood, flooding homes, streets and basements.
“American Rivers is not all about flooding, but we are hoping it will lower the stream,” Mellon Avenue resident Gary Ceschini said. “This is an opportunity to take the dam out for nothing. It is an opportunity to help reduce the risk of flooding.”
The two groups faced off in a 45-minute public comment session that became so heated that Kirk halted discussions several times, using his gavel to restore order.
Ceschini said he took a close look at the dam when river levels were low and saw a lot of deterioration.
“The property loss over the years has been substantial,” Fifth Avenue resident Paul Baron said. “We live with that and the fear that comes with it.
“We reduce the risk by removing that dam. When you have a useless dam, it’s a major risk.”
Removing the dam is just one step in improving the Chest Creek waterway for recreation and wildlife, Mark Stockley, resource conservation supervisor with the Cambria County Conservation District, told council at the meeting.
“Once that dam is removed, we are not going to walk away,” Stockley said. “We want to make it better. We are going to be doing more improvements to the stream in that area, as well.
“Overall it will make it so much better.”
“It is going to lower the water more than anybody knows,” he said. “I think it will be bad for the whole environment up there. Once it’s gone, it will never be back.”
Weakland and other speakers urged council to delay the work until more studies could be done, but Stockley said the American Rivers funding is in place for this year.
“For those of us who live in the flood zone, this is the gift we’ve been waiting for,” Baron said.
“This is our time. This is a gift to do it now, not to wait.”
Baron asked Donna Dunegan, borough secretary, to let him know when the work begins.
“I’d love to just stand and cheer,” he said.
Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.