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Anglers, others don't want Unity's Kingston Dam to go

| Thursday, June 20, 2013, 11:26 a.m.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Pat Contillo, 45, of Monroeville, pulls his fishing line in over the Kingston Dam near Latrobe on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Contillo said he fishes at the dam because the area is known for harboring big fish.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Toby Nice, 29, of Cleveland catches a tiger trout at the Kingston Dam near Latrobe on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Nice said he fished at the location the day before and said had to try to catch a bigger fish once more time before heading home.
Lindsay Dill | Tribune-Review
Pat Contillo, 45, of Monroeville, releases a small-mouth bass while fishing with his brother, Mike Contillo, 43, of Monroeville at Kingston Dam near Latrobe on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. The Contillos have been fishing there together for years, and said the area is known for harboring bigger fish.

Since he was 4 years old, Mike Contillo has been fishing in Loyalhanna Creek at Kingston Dam.

The Monroeville native, 43, and his brother Pat, 45, with their childhood friend Brian Slone, 46, were there Wednesday afternoon to catch-and-release in the knee-deep water at the bottom of the dam in Unity.

Although Washington-based American Rivers touted better fishing and water quality if the dam were removed, the anglers disagreed.

“The fish won't spawn anymore when they take it out,” Slone of Monroeville said near the spillway. “There's more air happening right there than the whole rest of the stream.”

On Tuesday, the Latrobe Municipal Authority board authorized the nonprofit organization to work on a $60,000 study to explore the feasibility of removing the dam that was built in 1918.

The 8,000-customer authority owns the Kingston Dam, which is necessary as a backup water supply for 4 million gallons of water per day, but does not provide flood control along the creek.

The authority has estimated that $1.6 million would need to be invested to connect to another backup water source before the dam could be removed.

Kingston Dam is classified as a C-4 structure by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which means it is the smallest size dam and the least hazardous, said John Poister, DEP spokesman.

The dam was inspected last year as it is every five years, and was found to have no problems, Poister said.

As bass minnows swirled in the water near their feet, the men said they fished at Westinghouse Dam in Trafford before it was removed a few years ago, but “it's pretty much unfishable” now, Mike Contillo said.

Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, associate director for river restoration with the Pittsburgh office of American Rivers, touted better water quality, lower water temperature, increased fish population and increased recreation as benefits to the dam's removal.

She could not be reached on Wednesday for further comment.

Just a few hundred yards away from the dam, Jim Lender, assistant manager at Kingston Supply Co., said the dam is helpful when giving people directions to the business and surrounding area.

“I'd hate to see it go,” Lender said. “It's been there for so long. I would call it a landmark.”

Tom Robinson, 43, has lived just downstream from the dam for 21 years along Route 30 with his wife and two children.

“I have a picture of it in my house from 1918,” he said. “I like to see historic preservation, it's what I'm after.”

He said he was interested to see if any additions to Loyalhanna Creek would be needed to buffer faster-moving water without the dam.

“(It's) actually creating a barrier,” Robinson said. “It's slowing the water down before it gets to us.”

Neighbors said they don't usually have to worry about flooding, especially Edward Ogrodny, 61, who lives on a hill just above the Route 217 bridge.

“I think it would be a good idea for boaters to have more of a throughway to enjoy their sport,” he said.

Swimmers and sunbathers have visited the dam for decades to take a dip in the pool the structure creates, although that is officially prohibited.

Ogrodny said he has seen a decline in the number of swimmers in the 14 years he's lived there and a safer alternative without the dam could be marketed for more tourism in the Laurel Highlands.

“There are so few people that swim there that it's not worth taking away from other people who can utilize the waterway,” he said.

Mike Contillo said the summer days spent there are evident by the many markings and graffiti left on the concrete.

“For years it read, ‘Welfare Beach.' It's pretty funny,” he said. “It's been enjoyed by many people for many years.”

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