Hokendauqua Chapter 'Atlas Dam Reconnection Project'

               Atlas Cement Co. built a dam located in the Borough of Northampton in Northampton County.  The dam backed up the Hokendauqua Creek, a cold water fishery, for over 4000 feet.  The dam originally built in about 1898 was over 600 feet long and ranged in height from 8 feet to its highest point of 15 feet above the stream bed.  The impoundment was used by the Atlas Cement Company for a wet process of making cement.  The plant was closed for business in the late 1980’s.  The site was used by numerous teachers for environmental studies including an eighth grade science teacher named Gerald Newhardt, who inspired Trout Unlimited member John Mauser .   Newhardt developed a plan for a trail and outdoor classroom in the early 1970s and proposed that the Northampton Area School District (NASD) acquire the property for educational purposes.  The NASD decided to not acquire the property.   Mauser became a teacher and for about 20 years had students tour the site, clear the dam of debris, and clear several trails.  In 2000, the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) notified the Horwith family, owners of the site, that they were responsible for maintaining the dam.  The DEP stated that four conditions had to be met.  First, all brush, shrubs, and trees should be cleared from the upstream face of the dam.  Second, a length of 10 feet beyond the toe of the dam should be clear to be able to spot seeps or boils.  Third, cracks and/or deterioration should be repaired to reduce seepage through the dam.  Finally, the Horwith family, as owners of the property on which the dam sat, must maintain the dam.

                The Horwith family offered the dam and about 20 acres of land to the Borough of Northampton and Northampton County.  Both governmental units wanted nothing to do with the property due to ongoing liability and maintenance concerns.  At this time, Mauser approached the Horwith family about removing the dam.  The family agreed that the Hokendauqua Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU) could explore the removal of the dam.  On March 18, 2005 Mauser and other members of TU met with representatives of the PA Fish & Boat Commission (F&BC), DEP, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (CORPS), and the Northampton County Conservation District.  All parties agreed the dam should be removed.

                The process was started.  The PFBC put the TU chapter in touch with the URS Corporation now part of AECOM.  Mauser and representatives of URS put together a grant proposal which was submitted to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on January 11, 2006.  The original grant requested $70,302 for planning, engineering, and permitting.  The removal costs were estimated at $128,900.  The NOAA approved the grant and engineering plans were developed and reviewed with the permitting agencies.  Core samples were taken and analyzed for over 2000 feet of stream bed.  As years went by and each set of requirements for each agency were met, the engineering fees, core sampling, permitting costs, and other non-construction expenses had reached over $169,000.  William Weihbrechtt, Senior Stream Restoration Specialist for URS, and Mauser met with all the previous listed agencies and American Rivers to discuss strategies for overcoming the new hurdle of the week.  At one point it was suggested the dam removal involve the trucking of all sediment to a nearby quarry which would incur about several hundred thousands of dollars in tipping fees and trucking costs.  The tipping and transportation fees made the project too costly.  Weihbrecht noted that only 240 feet of dam was to be removed. He strongly proposed creating a new wetland below the remaining 360 feet of dam.  Over the years of flooding, the braided stream area below the dam had been scoured and sediment starved.   After months of discussion the CORPS approved the wetland creation.  Weihbrecht developed new cost estimates of $35,000 for engineering during removal and $385,900 in deconstruction costs.  A PA DEP Growing Grant was developed by Weihbrecht in the amount of $420,900.  The TU chapter did not hold 501(c)3 statues, so Mauser , who is also project manager for the Martins-Jacoby Watershed Association (MJWA), applied for the Growing Greener grant under the name of the MJWA.  The funding was awarded in 2014. 

                On September 11, 2014, River Logic Solutions (RLS) made the initial breach of the dam.  Basically, a wedge was taken out of the dam.  The top of wedge was 240 feet and tapered down to 125 at stream bed level.   RLS used an excavator with a 100 foot boom to remove sediment and uncover the original stream bed which was covered by 10 feet of sediment at the dam face.  On October 21, 2014, RLS had completed sediment removal, seeded the new stream bank, and seeded the manmade wetland.  

                Kristi Fach, Director of Ecological Restoration for the Wildlands Conservancy, Weihbrecht, Mauser, Tyler Niemond, PA F&BC, Ben Larsen, PA F&BC, and several TU members met along the banks of the Hokendauqua Creek on March 24, 2015 to review the project.  The date is important because the process started on March 18, 2005 a little over 11 years ago.  The feeling of all parties was a sense of accomplishment and excitement about the future of the project. 

                Krista Fach oversaw the planting of trees and shrubs as well as seeding of bare earth areas on May 2, 2015.  Volunteers from area TU chapters, the conservancy, and Watershed Coalition of the Lehigh Valley’s Watershed Stewards class planted the stream banks with native plants. More improvements are planned for this section of the stream. Sometime this year, Mauser expects to catch his first wild brown trout from this stretch of the Hokendauqua Creek. The chapter will also be looking in to placing our Trout in the Classroom fish in this area of the stream.  

                

Comments

 
said on Monday, July 13th, 2015

Way to go Hokey TU!!!  A long and difficult process, but a great result.  Congratulations to all who worked on this project.

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