HONESDALE—The Wayne County Board of Commissioners authorized County Solicitor Lee Krause to request an injunction from the Court of Common Pleas to delay the breach of Hankins Pond Dam, scheduled to begin Monday, September 10.
“We have authorized today that our solicitor on our behalf begin legal proceedings against the Fish & Boat Commission to protect the structure of that dam pending a hearing in front of the court,” explained Commissioner Wendell Kay Thursday at the commissioners' weekly business meeting.
“We think it's very important to our community, to the history of our nation, to preserve this structure.”
The commissioners learned earlier this week the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) planned to move ahead with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) order to remove a 150-foot section of the dam, despite the ongoing negotiations the county has attempted to preserve the 200-year old structure.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Brian Smith explained that as part of these discussions, the county offered to take possession of the dam and its surrounding area – over 120 acres in total – if a non-breach solution could be reached.
“So our latest communication has been that they are still willing to turn the property and the dam over to us,” said Smith, “But maintain that it will take close to a year to achieve that and that they will move forward with breaching the dam anyway in the meantime.
“They would allow us to repair the dam afterwards to standards approved by DEP if we so desire, but to avoid any additional liability in case of a big storm or a catastrophic situation that would cause a flood, they're going to breach it anyway.”
Smith stated the county is “reluctant to get involved with taking the property if they're going to make us breach it in the manner they've put forward.”
He also stated the county sought litigation only as a last resort but due to the dam's historical significance, “...we feel it's a worthwhile effort in this case.”
Noting an injunction is a rarely used, “extraordinary” procedure Solicitor Krause explained, “It's granted only under exceptional circumstances. So we have no guarantee that the court will grant this injunction and stop the construction.”
Krause is expected to file a motion today with a ruling taking place shortly thereafter.
As earlier reported, DEP declared Hankins Pond Dam to be a “high hazard dam” due to the estimation that there are nine individuals downstream whose lives could be at risk in the event of a heavy rainfall or flood causing the dam to breach of its own accord.
The 1000-foot, hand built, stone dam was drained in 2013 after years serving as a breeding pond for PFBC and before that as a feeder pond for the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Canal.
Hankins Pond, along with Belmont Lake, Miller Pond, White Oak Pond, Lower Woods, Lake Cajaw were all built in similar ways and at similar times as feeder ponds for the D&H Canal, Smith said Thursday.
Of those listed, all but Lake Cajaw are in various stages of drainage and repair, funded through a statewide initiative to reduce the number of high hazard dams in Pennsylvania.
Hankins Pond is the only one of that group not set to be repaired and recommissioned.