A Pennypack Creek dam where a local teen died in July will be lowered by several feet, eliminating the swimming hole that has long attracted kids.
The work at the dam that’s just west of the Roosevelt Boulevard won’t even get started next year and, possibly, not in 2015 either. Designs must be completed. State permits must be arranged, and money must be obtained.
None of that is done quickly.
For police, public officials and parents, the dam is a safety concern. It creates a pool of water that backs up to a footbridge that crosses the creek. It’s from that bridge that kids leap or dive into the water that is deeper there than it is in most other parts of the creek.
The dam has been a hot spot for swimmers and thrill seekers who want to go over the falls, Capt. Joseph Zaffino, the 7th District’s commander, told Northeast Times reporter William Kenny in July.
Thirteen-year-old Brandon Boyle jumped into the rain-swollen creek near the dam on July 1. Brandon’s 11-year-old brother, Anthony, also went into the water. He was rescued. Brandon’s body was found along the creek’s banks on July 4. Police rescued two teens from the creek a month earlier.
In 2010, 20-year-old Saulius Kvaraciejus tried to ride an inflatable pool over the dam and vanished in the water.
The dam can be deceptive. After a heavy rain, the water on the dam’s east side is almost as high as it is on the creek’s approach from the west.
Standing on the snowy and icy banks of the dam on Dec. 18, Tom Witmer described a much different scene once the dam’s walls are cut down 3.9 feet. Rocks will build up on the east side of the dam toward the remaining wall to form a ramp that will carry water away, said Witmer, director of natural resources for the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Lowering the dam’s wall will make the water under the bridge shallower and also will eliminate the deep pool on the dam’s west side, so there won’t be a swimming hole for kids to dive or jump into from the nearby footbridge.
“Of course, during floods, the water level will rise significantly,” Witmer said in a Dec. 20 email to the Northeast Times.
Witmer said the cost of the project won’t be determined until designs are complete and bids are solicited.
The dam is in Councilman Brian O’Neill’s 10th district, and the councilman’s primary concern is safety, said his aide, Robert Yerkov.
But that’s not the only interest.
There is a Philadelphia Water Department sewer line that runs under the creek above the dam, said Laura Craig, assistant director of river restoration for the nonprofit American Rivers and Streams. If the dam were removed completely, the water level would go down enough to expose the line, she said.
Full removal of the dam would be best, said Benjamin Lorson, a biologist with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, because it would give aquatic life freedom of movement on the waterway. Lorson checked out the Pennypack dam on Dec. 18 along with Witmer, Yerkov, Craig and Gleim Environmental Group director Stephanie Rider.
“A naturally functioning stream system provides healthy habitat for the natural aquatic communities to inhabit,” Lorson said in a Dec. 19 email to the Northeast Times. “In addition, those aquatic species can move freely within the system to seek the conditions necessary for their survival.”
American Rivers provided technical expertise to the city in removal of Pennypack dams at Rhawn Street and Frankford Avenue, Craig said. The dam near the Boulevard is the only one right now that blocks the passage of fish through the waterway, she said. The dam near Verree Road has been breached, but there also is a channel that runs along the creek so fish can swim from one side of the dam to the other.
Witmer said the Water Department is paying for design and engineering, but the city doesn’t have the funds yet to start the project. Craig said her nonprofit, a national river conservation group, also helps secure funding. She said there are state and federal grants to seek. Once the money is in place, Witmer said, construction would begin within a year. ••