Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fuel tax to aid dam repairs in Western Pennsylvania region

By Bob Frye

Glade Run Lake dam in Butler County waiting to be rebuilt
A transportation funding bill aimed primarily at fixing roads and bridges will benefit anglers and boaters, too.

Act 89, signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett in November, raised fuel taxes starting on Jan. 1. That's means higher gas prices at the pump, for motorboaters as much as drivers.
The tradeoff is that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is going to get a bigger chunk of that revenue.

The commission always has gotten some state gas tax revenues, called “liquid fuels” money, based on the gallons of fuel sold to boaters. That's averaged about $1.9 million annually over the past 10 years.

Going forward, it's going to get that and more. With the new gas tax in place, estimates are that the commission will get an additional $3.8 million in fiscal 2013-14, $4.5 million in 2014-15, $5.1 million in 2015-16, $5.8 million in 2016-17 and $6.4 million in 2017-18 and thereafter.

In time, the commission will be able to use all of that money for general boating issues, such as developing and maintaining ramps, posting navigational aids, patrolling waters and more.

For the first five years, the commission must use the money to repair high-hazard, unsafe dams, said Tim Schaeffer, director of policy and planning for the agency.
The commission had 20 such dams as recently as 2008. It's fixed 11 of those since. It's not had the $48 million needed to fix the remaining nine.
This gas tax won't close that gap completely, said Brian Barner, deputy director for administration for the commission. It likely will account for perhaps $26 million in new revenues.

“But it's substantial. It's a big part of the pie,” Barner said.

There are a number of high-hazard dams locally, including the now-drained Upper and Lower Hereford Manor lakes in Beaver County and Glade Run Lake in Butler, and the partially-drawn-down Donegal Lake in Westmoreland and Lake Somerset in Somerset. The price tag for repairing or rebuilding them ranges from $4 million to $12 million, Schaeffer said.

All are moving targets of sorts.

With some, all of the needed engineering work is done, Barner said. Others have yet to see that completed. At least one, Lake Somerset, has gone from being almost ready to not so ready after a state Department of Environmental Protection soil test determined more engineering work had to be done.

The result is there's no “priority list” outlining which lakes are to be fixed first, Barner said. Instead, those decisions are made as money — from gas tax revenues to grants and state funding secured by local citizens groups and lawmakers — becomes available, he said.
But the goal remains to restore each lake in some fashion as quickly as possible, Schaeffer said. And the new gas tax will help.

“The bottom line is, we are committed to getting them all back into shape where they can serve the anglers and boaters of Pennsylvania,” Schaeffer said

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