Pennsylvania cites 46 high-hazard dams lacking emergency plans

Gov. Edward Rendell has directed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to issue compliance notices to owners of 46 high-hazard dams operating without emergency action plans.

DEP regulates about 3,200 Pennsylvania dams. All high-hazard dams are required to have an EAP, which details specific steps to be taken in the event of problems that could result in dam failure, threatening downstream communities. The state said the 57 cited owners failed to create or update their plans in a timely manner, despite requests by the department to comply.

The notices direct the owners to provide DEP within 30 days a detailed schedule for submitting a completed EAP, or to submit a draft EAP for review and approval. Dam owners also have the option of submitting a plan to drain a reservoir and breach its dam.

Dam owners face civil penalties

If an owner fails to comply with a notice, DEP will order the impoundment drained. DEP also will assess civil penalties of up to $10,000 for failure to comply, and as much as $500 per day for continued non-compliance. In addition, DEP can seek misdemeanor convictions against owners who refuse to comply.

During statewide flooding in June, several EAPs were activated, giving emergency responders a first-hand look at how well-designed plans can help ensure the orderly and timely evacuation of downstream communities. (HNN 6/29/06)

In a Sept. 6 announcement, Rendell said EAPs are the most effective and least costly action a dam owner can take to protect the public, and are required by state law. He added dam owners need to cooperate with DEP to bring dams into compliance or take steps to drain and breach the structures so they no longer endanger communities.

In April 2004, Rendell marked the 115th anniversary of the Johnstown flood that killed more than 2,200 people by launching Pennsylvania’s Dam Safety Initiative. At that time, the governor directed DEP to issue violation notices to owners of 276 high-hazard dams lacking proper EAPs.

Most of the owners of the 276 dams responded and promised to comply. The dam owners subject to the current notices contacted the department at that time, but have made no real progress toward creating or updating their EAPs, the governor’s office said.

In June 2004, DEP ordered 20 owners of 23 dams who did not respond at all to hire an engineer and complete the process of developing an EAP. The department later took five of those owners to court to force compliance.

Since the governor’s 2004 announcement: 52 EAPs have been developed, reviewed, and received final approval; 134 are in the review and approval process; and 20 are in development. Nine dams were downgraded to non-high-hazard structures following engineering analyses demonstrating that dam failure would not endanger populated areas. Four dams have been breached, and five others are being breached. Six dams have new owners who have been in contact with DEP’s Division of Dam Safety about the need for a current EAP.

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