Petition circulates to save Hanover-area dam

Petition circulates to save Hanover-area dam

John Bittinger used to roll down the grassy hills by Sheppard-Myers reservoir as a child.

"That was always a lot of fun," the 79-year-old Penn Township resident recalled.

Blake Stevens, a 20-year-old employee at B&B Lures in Hanover, described how he is often regaled with stories from longtime residents about how good the fishing used to be by the Sheppard-Myers Impounding Dam.

Hanover Borough Council is weighing the future of the dilapidated dam, which is responsible for about 20 percent of local water supply. Long Arm Dam supplies the remainder.

Borough council members face the choice of whether to repair the Sheppard-Myers Dam, a task that could prove expensive, or decommission it by removing its operations.

"We’re not on the precipice of the decision," said Hanover Borough Manager Michael O'Rourke.

In an effort to save the West Manheim Township dam, Stevens started a petition, which has amassed more than 700 signatures in five days.

"I'm hoping that it changes the borough council's mind about tearing it down," he said.

Stevens was surprised by the groundswell, expecting a couple hundred endorsements. O'Rourke called it "pretty impressive."

"That’s our democracy," O'Rourke said. "If people have strong feelings about something, this is the way they express it. That’s good. That’s healthy."

The petition allows signers to give their reasoning for climbing aboard the movement.

"We need to preserve wildlife and the resources that sustain it," explained one petitioner.

"I use this area to go fishing and play with my son," said another.

(Photo: Dan Rainville, The Evening Sun)

Area businesses, including W.E. Sell Sporting Goods, Dean's Auto Plaza and the Village Pet Shoppe, have joined the effort, putting out paper petitions in their stores, Stevens said.

Built in 1932, Sheppard-Myers dam, which serves McSherrystown and Hanover boroughs as well as Conewago and Penn townships, has major embankment and spillway issues.

The dam has been ignored, abandoned and left to fill up with silt, said Bittinger, a Hanover architect.

If the borough spares the dam, it will be required to rehabilitate it, which could cost anywhere from $4 million to $7 million. Decommissioning the dam would cost about $1 million, but it would require the borough to find an alternative water source and finance the preparation.

"Either way, we’re going to have to spend more money," Stevens said. "I think (repairing the dam) would honestly be the cheapest route."

O'Rourke agreed that both options will affect water rates for taxpayers, but added that Hanover will continue to have some of the lowest rates in the state.

A decision will come "some time within the next year," O'Rourke said.

In the meantime, the borough council is on a fact-finding mission to better understand the importance of the Sheppard-Myers water system, other water reserve options and the costs associated with pursuing alternatives.

"When they do make a decision, they will have done it with a great deal of information under their hats," O'Rourke said.

The borough has gathered information through meetings with state Department of Environmental Protection representatives, an information session with an outside engineering company and cost-benefit analyses for possible replacements for the dam, O'Rourke explained. These alternatives include treating hard water and exploring well-digging experiments.

Stevens mentioned another reason for his petition was because of potential development and the resulting impact on wildlife. He often sees deer drinking water out of the reservoir, he said.

Breaching the dam would drain the water source, and the stream would be reconfigured close to its original state.

"I imagine there could be potential for development," O'Rourke said, adding that he didn't have enough knowledge about environmental details of the location that could halt that.

In Bittinger's opinion, abandoning the dam would be "foolish." Since the dam has held up reasonably well since the 30s, he imagined that, with upgrades, the dam could last another 100 years.

"It’s something that the borough needs to address," Bittinger said. "If they have to spend $7 million to upgrade this, it’s a good investment, as I see it, for the future."

Sheppard-Myers Dam quick facts

(Photo: Dan Rainville, The Evening Sun)

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