November 3, 2009

Tearing down Patapsco River’s Union Dam is on board agenda

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By Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

The Board of Public Works on Wednesday will be asked to sign off on a $1.5 million contract that the state is using to tear down Union Dam on the Patapsco River in Baltimore County.

The Department of Natural Resources has been using the contract, given to K&K Adams, Inc. in Baltimore City, since late September. The state expects to get about $1.2 million in federal stimulus money for the project, said Jordan Loran, DNR’s director of engineering and construction.

“We anticipate that we’ll start receiving the funding within the next month or so,” Loran said.

The state has been planning to tear down the dam for a decade, and was in the process of seeking bids on the project in August. At the end of that month, the Department of the Environment issued an order requiring DNR to begin working on the dam’s removal as soon as possible.

The fear, according to documents filed with the BPW, was that the dam was in imminent danger of failure. This could damage a massive sewage line nearby. The dam was originally damaged by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and a number of stopgap measures to solidify it have failed since then.

“The failure of the [sewage line] would release hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage into the river, harming freshwater fish and the American eel population,” DNR wrote in a document filed with the BPW.  “It is estimated that it would take over five years for the river to return to its current state.”

Because of the order from the Environment Department, Natural Resources decided to execute an emergency contract immediately, rather than bring it before the board as it would with most other contracts of that size. Lordan said the use of an emergency contract was not related to the federal cash.

He points out that K&K was the lowest bid that the department received for the work. The demolition at the dam is part of a larger plan to tear down four dams on the Patapsco to restore the natural flow of the river.

An environmental group known as American Rivers is using federal stimulus money to work toward tearing down Simkins Dam. The state is also planning to demolish Bloede Dam, Lordan said. There are no plans now for how to get rid of Daniels Dam.

Also Wednesday, the Maryland Stadium Authority will be asking for permission to borrow and spend more than $12 million on improvements at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and at M&T Bank Stadium. A similar proposal was on the table at the last Board of Public Works meeting but was delayed.