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Dam permit pending

DEP?has yet to comment on 2014 application

In September 2014, the Altoona Water Authority authorized its staff to submit a schedule to the state Department of Environmental Protection for renovation of the Bellwood dam, to bring it into compliance with upgraded safety standards that require a much bigger spillway.

Originally, construction was to begin as early as late 2017, so, based on the original schedule, the two-year project should have been completed by now, authority General Manager Mark Perry said at a recent meeting.

It hasn’t happened. Authority consulting engineer Gwin Dobson & Foreman is still awaiting comments from DEP on its application for a renovation permit.

The permit application got caught in a “real backlog” at DEP, Gwin President Mark Glenn told the authority.

An earlier geotechnical report on the dam site also took a long time to be reviewed, Glenn said in February, 10 months after that report had been submitted.

The dam project “involves a very complex design,” according to DEP southcentral office spokes­man John Repetz.

The initial permit application submitted in June 2018 lacked required additional items and wasn’t “deemed to be complete” until March, Repetz wrote in an email.

After it was complete, an initial review uncovered “significant issues and potential changes that would have to be made.” DEP notified the authority in August, Repetz said.

A series of discussion ensued, which led to DEP’s launching its “full technical review” in October and sending a “technical deficiency letter” several days ago, Repetz wrote.

One of the issues that has been resolved is placement of the new spillway, given the need to retain the existing one during the construction project, Perry said.

The reservoir behind the dam will be empty during the project, but rain falling in the watershed — the largest in the authority’s system — can fill that reservoir from scratch in a couple of days, Perry said.

Such a quickfill has happened a couple of times already in the long runup to the project, after the reservoir had been emptied for preliminary work, Perry said.

The dam has a 36-inch drainpipe that runs underneath the breast, but that pipe can’t even come close to keeping up with a storm, Perry said.

Retaining the existing concrete-paved spillway during the project is critical. Otherwise water running freely over the earthen dam could erode it and cause disaster, Perry indicated.

That means the new spillway must be construction in a different location.

The existing spillway is built on bedrock, which is ideal, because even if the concrete pavement should give way, the surface underneath would resist erosion, Perry said.

The new spillway will need to be built on top of the earthen section of the dam breast.

The spillways for the authority’s Kettle and Plane 9 dams are also built on an earthen base, Perry said.

“We worked through it,” Perry said of the spillway location issue.

If the department approves the dam renovation permit in early 2020, construction probably wouldn’t begin until 2021 because the authority would need to obtain funding — if possible through Pennvest, Perry said.

The authority also needs to determine whether it would make financial sense to remove the silt that has collected over the years to increase the reservoir’s capacity, Perry said.

If the project begins in 2021 and ends in 2023, it would have taken four years longer than originally scheduled.

The $12 million dam project will be done in tandem with a $7 million renovation of the 24-year-old water treatment plant below the dam.

“We are trying to keep the two (projects) in sync as much as possible,” Perry said.

The permit situation with the plant is similar to the one with the dam.

“We’re looking to get the (plant) permit finalized,” Perry said.

The authority submitted a treatment plant renovation permit application in November 2018, according to Repetz.

The treatment plant project is also complex, he wrote.

Because of that complexity and “staffing issues,” the department sent the authority a “technical deficiency letter” on the plant permit in October, Repetz wrote.

The authority responded in late October, the parties met Nov. 22 and the department staff “is continuing its review,” Repetz wrote.

“We hope to have positive results” soon, Glenn said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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