The Pottsville Republican and Herald reported today that the PA Department of Environmental Protection reclassified eight Schuylkill County dams as “high hazards” that needed immediate attention. Stumping for Gov. Ed Rendell’s $100 million flood safety plan in Union Township yesterday, DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty stated that dams like Ringtown Reservoir No. 5 suffered from structural damage that if not repaired could burst, causing damage to property and possibly loss of life.
Obviously, this is an issue that needs resolving immediately. Downstream residents face disaster if any of these dams break. However, with all Secretary McGinty’s lofty promises to Schuylkill County citizens yesterday, she forgot to mention a few important details.
First, the Governor’s initiative will not pay for the entire dam project. Rendell allocated $15 million in his plan to provide local governments with grants totalling 30% of the cost of repairs. There are 13 other locally owned “high hazard” dams statewide. Competition for these grants will be fierce and nothing is guaranteed. It is possible that only a few, if any, of the eight Schuylkill dams will receive the state monies to begin repairs. Though The Clarke Report is always optimistic, anyone who has driven through our fair county knows that we can barely get enough state funds to keep up with filling the potholes on our roads, so to expect multi-million dollar grants for our dams is pretty far-fetched. Additionally, where will the other 70% of the repair costs come from?
Secondly, as is the case with most of his spending projects, Rendell’s initiative comes with a new tax. This time it will be in the form of a new state surcharge on homeowner’s insurance premiums.
The lesson is that before we go jumping off the proverbial dam, let’s make sure that we have a life jacket on first.