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Dry Lake Inches Closer To Comeback

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Tamarack Lake in Crawford County, Pa.

If it takes seven minutes to fill an 80-gallon tub with just the cold tap open and eight minutes with just the hot tap open, how long will it take to fill a 562-acre reservoir with the skies open periodically — and if nearby residents run hoses from their backyards to the lake, will that make a difference?

It's a question that will soon move from the dark world of algebra-inspired nightmares into reality.

The $9 million rehabilitation of the two dams that form the Tamarack Lake is nearing completion with nearly all of the work expected to be completed by the January deadline for the grant money that is funding the project, according to Mike Parker, communications director for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which oversees the lake.

"The project should be substantially complete sometime in January, meaning about 90 percent of total constructions should be complete at that time, including reconstruction of the dams and spillways," Parker recently said. The remaining work consists largely of project elements that cannot be completed during the winter months, such as refilling of topsoil and reseeding of grass, as well as small concrete repairs that may be needed.

"We know people have been waiting a long time," Parker said. "We're anxious. We appreciate everyone's patience and we know they're anxious as well.

"There have been a lot of complications along the way," he added, "but there's definitely light at the end of the tunnel."

Jill Dunlap, West Mead Township secretary-treasurer, can see the light as well.

"Oh, definitely," Dunlap said Friday. "We are all very interested to see this done.

"We're looking forward to it," Dunlap added. "That's for sure."

The story of the rehabilitation of the two dams that form Tamarack Lake is a long and tedious one, complicated by the fact that two dams and two watersheds, Mud Run and Mill Run, are involved, but made truly stupefying by the politics that had to be negotiated before actual work could begin.

Like a winding river in no hurry to reach its destination, the tale meanders through multiple levels of municipal, state and federal bureaucracy, doubles back from East Mead, West Mead and East Fairfield townships to Harrisburg then unexpectedly back again to the city of Meadville. The story, years in the making, continues on, bending toward Pennsylvania's Department of General Services and Fish and Boat Commission before the shifting channel curves around once more to touch the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The story of the project might have gone on for generations had not the $11.9 million PA H20 Flood Control grant that made it possible come with an expiration date — Jan. 9, 2019 — a fact whose significance only truly dawned on the various stakeholders involved at virtually the last possible moment to put the project into motion and complete it, or at least nearly complete it, in time to use the grant funds.

Several intricate maneuvers at several levels of government and in multiple municipalities — the bureaucratic equivalent of landing a fighter jet on the deck of a carrier at night in high seas — ensued in surprisingly rapid succession as the final design of the dam was approved, the federal government withdrew its interest in and responsibility for the dam and the city of Meadville signed off on the arrangement, a move required because the Tamarack dams are part of a flood control system that also includes Rainbow Lake Dam in the city.

"That's a true example of everyone working together," state Sen. Michele Brooks recently said, "the Friends of Tamarack Lake (a grassroots organization that has lobbied local and state government since the lake was first drawn down in 2011), Jill (Dunlap) and the West Mead Township supervisors, just all pulled together and got it done."

Or at least nearly done.

With the major construction work expected to be done in January, Parker said the grant deadline had been met.

"Any grant money allocated for the project has been used," he said. While PFBC will pay for part of the project, he said that was always part of the plan.

With the finish line for construction in sight, the eyes of those involved in the project and undoubtedly those who live near the lake as well turn next to getting some water in that thing. Once refilling is underway, PFBC will also come up with a plan to restock the lake, which traditionally contained muskie and walleye.

"The general estimate for filling the lake to a level considered safe is six months," Parker said. Such a level would allow people to safely launch boats from the lake's launch ramps.

Parker immediately cautioned that the six-month timeframe is merely an estimate and is entirely dependent on precipitation levels, a factor that remains outside the PFBC's control.

Unfortunately for those in a hurry to see the lake full again, it seems as though the refilling timeline would not be significantly affected if nearby residents ran hoses from their backyards to the lake. Their water bills, on the other hand, would likely spike quite noticeably.

Tamarack facts

  • Tamarack Lake is considered virtually unique in the state because it is formed by two dams, Dam A at the northern end and Dam B at the southern end, with a shallow area in the middle.
  • The lake's maximum depth is about 13 feet.
  • Construction on the dams, provoked by the flood of 1959, began in 1962. The Tamarack dams were dedicated May 14, 1965, along with Rainbow Lake Dam at Shady Brook Park.
  • Though both dams were relocated slightly in the rehabilitation process, the size of the lake will remain the same at 562 acres, according to Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission engineers.
  • The lake normally holds about 1.26 billion gallons of water with a maximum capacity of 2.7 billion.