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Somerset Lake Project Moving Forward

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Permitting for the construction project to rebuild Somerset County’s Somerset Lake is underway at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and is expected to be completed by late 2018 with construction now beginning in 2019, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) announced today.

The delay in permitting, which is not uncommon in multi-year projects, means that the construction phase will likely begin in spring 2019, several months behind the original projected date of fall 2018.

“Any changes in timing of the reconstruction of the dam breast and spillway will not have any impact on the ongoing efforts to fund and implement the planned visitor enhancements at the surrounding Somerset Lake Nature Park,” said PFBC District 4 Commissioner Lenny Lichvar. “On the positive side, this will provide added time for large scale habitat and other fish habitat improvements to be completed while the lake is drawn down. It should be noted, in order to eliminate rumors, that all the funding for the reconstruction of the breast and spillway is committed and in place.”

In addition, the PFBC is alerting visitors to the lake that due to public safety concerns, the lake pool and lake bed are now closed to the public. But Somerset Lake Nature Park remains open.

“We’re closing the remaining lake pool and lake bed to public use because of the soft and mucky conditions,” said Tom Crist, PFBC Southwest Regional Law Enforcement Manager. “This is a safety measure to reduce the potential risk of the public becoming trapped.”

Visitors may still visit the property to walk or run, for example, but they will be prohibited from walking on the lake bed or launching boats into the remaining portion of the lake.

Governor Tom Wolf released capital budget funding in October 2016 for the repair of Somerset Lake. Projects to rebuild dams typically take 3-5 years to complete and fluctuate depending on the number of projects underway at DEP and the Department of General Services.

The construction project was originally estimated to start in spring 2018 and take two years to complete, with the lake reopened for public use by the fall of 2020. Under the revised timeline, the lake is expected to reopen in fall 2021.

The project involves building a new spillway, raising the elevation of the top of the dam, and making repairs and improvements to the dam and the structures used to control the water level. The overall cost is estimated between $6 million – $8 million.

A majority of the lake was drained in October 2017 in preparation for the construction project. The water level was initially lowered by six feet in January 2012 to reduce pressure on the earthen dam after state dam-safety inspectors documented excessive seepage.

The 252-acre warmwater lake holds largemouth bass, walleye, channel catfish, crappies, sunfish, perch, muskellunge, tiger muskellunge, northern pike, bowfin, gizzard shad, golden shiner and common carp. Once the project is completed, PFBC biologists will begin reestablishing the fishery, a process which typically takes 3-5 years.