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Lower Woods Dam rehab now underway

LEBANON TOWNSHIP— Lake lovers in Lebanon Township can look forward to driving boats along Lower Woods Pond once again in late 2023 as construction on the dam rehabilitation broke ground.

On November 23, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) Executive Director Tim Schaeffer, PFBC District 7 Commissioner William Gibney, PA Senator Lisa Baker, State Representative Jonathan Fritz and other state and local officials announced the official start of the project with a ceremonial groundbreaking.

Leeward Construction will perform the $2.6-million rehabilitation, which consists of reconstructing three dams and a spillway.

"For about the next year, you're going to see heavy equipment moving in and out of this construction site," said Shaeffer at the groundbreaking. "We anticipate construction to take about a year, to wrap up about this time next fall. And then we'll begin the refill process, and that will be up to Mother Nature, typically about six month for a facility like this to refill. We got some snow today. If we were to luck out with some snow next winter, it'll refill even quicker."

When filled to capacity, Lower Woods Pond is 91 acres.

According to PFBC, "While boaters will be able to enjoy the pond as soon as it refills, anglers will have to be more patient. Once the pond is refilled, a multi-year restocking plan will begin to reestablish a world-class fishery, which will include Largemouth Bass and Walleye."

Schaeffer acknowledged the important place fishing has to both residents and visitors to Wayne County. "We know how important fishing and boating are to Wayne County," he said, "and this just shows our agency's commitment to the region to make sure that the resources are better than ever. What this really does is give hope to the residents of Wayne County, shows them that these dams are going to come back and these fisheries will be better than ever."

Senator Baker noted of the event, "This was an exciting kick-off for the next phase of restoration, which will be a tremendous asset within the community for fishing, hiking, and outdoor recreation. It has been a long process, but I am extremely pleased that the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and our northeastern Commissioner Bill Gibney are committed to this project to benefit local residents and help to further tourism within the region.

"There was great disappointment and concern back in 2012 when the water was drained, and people questioned whether they would ever be able to utilize Lower Woods Pond again. It is exciting that a hometown company will be working on this project, and will make sure that it is restored to the beauty that it once was before."

Representative Fritz likewise stated, "After a protracted period of time, it is a relief to know that we are officially moving forward with the replacement of state owned dams in Wayne County. A sincere thanks to Senator Baker for the coordinated efforts in ensuring that the funding stayed in place and these projects were not cast aside.”

Lower Woods Pond was dewatered in 2012 after officials discovered a leak which presented a safety hazard.

Lower Woods wasn't alone, as shortly afterwards, PFBC drained White Oak Pond, Miller Pond, Belmont Lake and Hankins Pond for similar concerns. These dams received funding from the state to be addressed via either rehabilitations or breaching and decommissioning.

According to updates released earlier this year, both Miller Pond and White Oak Pond are in the design phase for their rehabilitation with construction anticipated to begin in 2022. Both projects are expected to take around a year and a half to complete and be reading for boating after a six-month refill period, potentially as early as 2024.

Belmont Lake is also in the design phase, which is anticipated to wrap up in 2022. Construction is expected to follow in 2023 and take roughly a year and a half to complete. After a six-month refill period, the lake may return to public recreational use as early as 2025.

The last of these, Hankins Pond Dam, was set to be breached. Not wanting the historic dam to be destroyed, the Wayne County Commissioners stepped in to negotiate a deal where it would instead be decommissioned, but otherwise left intact. The County took over stewardship of the property and intends to use it as a recreational and educational space once its decommissioning is complete.

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