Frog
LITTLE FROG, BIG PROBLEM-Just the possibility that the Northern Cricket Frog may exist at the Ice Lakes has been a factor in causing a two-year delay in reparing the dam.

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Engineer Andy Pasonick met with a DEP representative to show him their final plan before putting the project out for bids.

That’s when the project hit its first major snag.

The DEP representative informed the men that the dam didn’t comply with a 2011 state law that requires lakes to be capable of being drained in an emergency.

“Now we slammed into a brick wall,” Beck said. The township was no longer facing only a pipe repair. It was facing a modification to the dam itself.

Township officials began the time-consuming process of filing an application for an amendment to the dam permit. Initial estimates of the repair costs, reported at a supervisors’ meeting in October 2016, stood at between $105,000 and $120,000.

But then: another snag.

The amendment application is “a very extensive process,” Beck said, noting there were 15 or 16 different sections requiring research and interface with various government agencies. One section involved a search with the state Fish and Boat Commission, investigating local wildlife.

The Fish and Boat Commission discovered that the Northern Cricket Frog, an endangered species, is indigenous to this area. The agency didn’t want to see the habitat of the frogs –if they did indeed live at the lake –compromised by the repair process.

At this point, Rice Township was dealing with two government agencies that held competing interests. The DEP wanted to minimize risk to humans, so that agency’s primary concern was preventing dam failure. The DEP wanted the upper lake fully drained before any repairs were made. The Fish and Boat Commission’s primary interest was wildlife: the frogs. That agency didn’t want the lake drained because draining could disturb the frogs’ habitat.

In December 2016, township supervisors hired Herpetological Associates Inc. of Wyomissing at a cost of $1,743 to prepare a report to “see if there was potential habitat for the cricket frog” at the Ice Lakes, Herpetological Associates Regional Manager Michael Torocco said.

Meanwhile, by March of 2017, the previously low lake had refilled. A resident inquired at a township supervisors’ meeting if the repair project could simply be abandoned, given that the lake wasn’t low anymore. But by then, because the DEP had found the dam out of compliance with state law, the township had no choice but to fix the dam.

The good news was that the township had received two Local Share Account grants from county gaming funds –one for $85,000 and another for $34,000. So it appeared that the repairs would be completely covered, and the township would be in the clear.

But then: another snag.

At the March 2017 supervisors’ meeting, engineer Andy Pasonick announced that Herpetological Associates had indeed found evidence that the Northern Cricket Frog had the potential to inhabit the region. But did the frog actually live there?

To find out, the township would need to commission a far more costly second study –a study that could run at least $14,000. The Fish and Boat Commission wanted that study before signing off on any repairs.

This meant that the cost of the repairs would go up, and the township didn’t have the funds for further expenses.

So for all intents and purposes, “we just assumed that the frogs exist,” Supervisor Bob Pipech said. It wasn’t worth the money to find out for certain.

In lieu of a second frog study, Pasonick began trying to negotiate a solution that would satisfy both government agencies.

By July 2017, the Fish and Boat Commission had conceded that the work could be done in the winter after the hypothetical frogs’ breeding season had ended, and the DEP had conceded that the repairs could be done if the lake was drained only halfway instead of all the way, preserving the frogs’ habitat.

Rice supervisors finally advertised bids in October, expecting to start work the following month.

But then: another snag.

Bids came in over $50,000 higher than anticipated, so supervisors at their November meeting tabled awarding of a bid in order to seek additional funding sources first.

Supervisors finally awarded a bid to A. R. Popple of Wilkes-Barre at their December meeting, where they also voted to seek a $70,000 loan to cover the remaining cost.

Now there are bonds to secure and paperwork to complete with A. R. Popple during the holiday season. Realistically, Pasonick doesn’t expect repairs to start until Jan. 2 at the earliest. The contractor will have 90 days to finish, stretching the project to around the end of March.

The Fish and Boat Commission has not given Pasonick a straight answer regarding when the frogs’ mating season starts up again, but Pasonick is unconcerned.

“I can’t see them [A. R. Popple] being in there more than 30 days” once the lake is drained, he said. And if the contractor takes longer than 90 days, they’ll be hit with a $250 fine for each consecutive day over the limit.

“That will start to offset it if we get hit with a fine” from the state government, Pasonick said.

Barring any more snags, it appears the project may be entering its final days, following much fuss over a theoretical frog.