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Donegal Lake lifts fishing limits ahead of draining, dam reconstruction

Paul Peirce
| Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, 10:45 p.m.
A boat navigates Donegal Lake on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 in Donegal. Gov. Tom Wolf has released $25.7 million in funding for the repair of five high-hazard, unsafe dams, including Donegal Lake and Somerset Lake.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
A boat navigates Donegal Lake on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016 in Donegal. Gov. Tom Wolf has released $25.7 million in funding for the repair of five high-hazard, unsafe dams, including Donegal Lake and Somerset Lake.

Shawn Snyder of Donegal and his 17-year-old son, Matthew, thought they would take advantage of summer-like temperatures to fish in Donegal Lake before sunset Thursday, but they weren't very lucky.

“The fish were jumping, though. I missed one, but my son did catch a largemouth (bass),” the elder Snyder said.

The Snyders also took advantage of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's lifting of size and creel limit regulations at the 90-acre lake in Donegal Township to prepare for a $6.5 million dam replacement project.

“We don't fish here too often, but it will be sad for people who fish it a lot when they drain it,” Snyder said.

“But in the end when the dam is rebuilt, it will be better,” he said.

Officials with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission conducted a meeting Thursday night to review its plans for the project.

Michele Jacoby, director of the bureau of engineering for the commission, said the drawdown of the lake will begin next week.

“It's been very apparent there are structural deficiencies of that earthen dam. The concrete on the spillway has just aged, and it's just worn,” she said.

“Since we've lifted the size and creel limits, we're encouraging people to get out there and fish,” she added.

She anticipates the lake will be completely drained by late October. The project will be bid in the spring, and the commission anticipates construction to begin in late summer or fall of 2017. The lake likely won't be refilled until the fall of 2018, and trout restocking won't take place until spring 2019.

Township Supervisor Tom Stull said area residents will certainly miss the lake, which attracts about $1 million in tourism dollars annually, but the work is needed. He said there was even talk that the dam was in such poor condition the state was considering “draining it and letting it just sit until funding was found.”

“This project is a good thing, I think,” he said.

But for Diana and George Masella of nearby Acme, they'll miss fishing practically every day and going out on a boat to enjoy picnic lunches.

“It's only 10 minutes from our home. We've been fishing it for 30 years,” George Masella said.

Diana Masella said she couldn't understand why the project will take so long to complete.

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the release of $25.7 million in capital budget funding for the repair of five high-hazard, unsafe dams, including Donegal Lake, and the design of two other dams.

Dams are considered unsafe if they have a deficiency that, if not corrected, could cause substantial property damage and a probable loss of human life upon the dam's failure, said the commission's Tim Schaeffer.

Commission officials said a salvage operation will be conducted, likely in late October, to move as many fish as possible to another body of water.

In advance of the fish salvage, the commission has temporarily lifted all seasons, sizes and creel limits at the lake. The lake is primarily stocked with trout, but also holds largemouth bass, white and black crappie, and bluegill.

“We want fishermen to fish the water and make good use of as many fish as they can,” Jacoby said.

The earthen dam was constructed in 1967 and its expected life was 50 years, she said.

About 20 area residents attending the meeting.

Paul Peirce is a reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com

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