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Lakemont fish are gone

Project officials plan to save as many turtles as they can

As someone who hasn’t eaten meat for more than 40 years, John Frederick is sensitive to the inhumane treatment of animals.

But the alternate member of the Intergovernmental Stormwater Committee isn’t casting blame for what has happened to the fish at Lakemont Park — recently removed and disposed of by the contractor hired to dredge the lake for environmental benefits.

“It was a very, very difficult situation,” said Frederick, contacted after a meeting Thursday of the ISC. “There were not a great many options.”

Several weeks ago, when workers first began to drain the lake, the sight of carp, catfish, crappies, bass, bluegills and other fish swarming in the shallows, their backs partly exposed, led to protests, accusations of inhumane treatment and proposals to transport them to safety in private ponds.

“(But) from an ecological and biological standpoint, it was my understanding there was no practical way,” Frederick said.

Officials at the meeting seemed reluctant to speak about the matter.

The disposition of the fish was “considered during central design, and following the complaints, by all the parties involved,” said Project Construction Manager Brian Shura, an engineer with Stiffler McGraw.

“We discussed it with the permitting agencies, the environmental agencies –with all the parties — and came to the only viable solution,” Shura said. “All ideas were brought to the table that were feasible.”

That included relocation, he said.

The discussions were between staffers from Blair County — which is the property owner and permit holder — and the agencies, but not the ISC board, indicated Ken Decker, a board member.

The removal and disposal was “part of the drawdown permit,” Shura said.

He declined to say how the disposal was accomplished.

“As a lifelong environmental professional, I know they did the best they could,” said Frederick, former head of the Intermunicipal Relations Committee, which operates recycling programs in the county. “I don’t think anyone took this lightly.”

Transporting the fish to private ponds would have meant distributing them to many locations, “and the difficulty and expense of doing that would have been overwhelming, and the logistics may have been impossible,” Frederick said.

There is no single private pond in the area with the capacity to take all the fish, according to Frederick.

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission wouldn’t have allowed the fish to be placed in public waters, according to a spokesman for that agency.

The alternatives considered also included euthanization, Frederick said.

Ultimately, the county made the final decision, Frederick indicated.

“I think they could have done something more humane,” said Mark Conrad, who tried to organize a rescue and participated in a quiet protest along Logan Boulevard near the lake. “(But) I’m not faulting anyone.”

Project officials have plans to save as many of the lake’s turtles as they can, which is a “positive thing,” Frederick said.

The turtles are currently buried in the mud, officials have said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler at 814-949-7038.

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