By Ben Orcutt - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The Town Council is considering whether to demolish the Riverton Dam on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.
The panel was briefed on the possible demolition by Larry Mohn of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries during a Monday work session at the Town Hall.
Mohn, regional fisheries manager for the department's office in Verona, told the council on Monday that the agency has received $100,000 in stimulus funding from the federal government to demolish the dam.
Mohn said there is growing concern about how the dam is affecting the migration of eels and also a desire to connect canoe launches.
"It's a high-hazard dam," Mohn said. "It's caused a number of deaths in the past."
Mohn said it would take two to three weeks to demolish the dam, which would be done by knocking it down, rather than blasting it. Mohn said the town owns the dam and therefore is responsible for its upkeep. One end, he said, is "severely cracked."
Demolishing the dam will not affect flooding downstream, Mohn noted. He added that the state would be required to leave one or both of the abutments for historic significance.
Mayor Eugene R. Tewalt said he thinks it could be a mistake for Front Royal to demolish the dam if there is a chance that the town may want to use it to draw water from the North Fork.
Town Manager J. Michael Graham said that it could be difficult to get a permit from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to withdraw water from the North Fork. Mohn noted that while 20 percent of the water from the Shenandoah is in the North Fork, about 80 percent of the population in the area lives closer to it than the South Fork.
The city of Winchester draws water from the North Fork, which is also is a factor to consider. Steven M. Burke, the town's director of environmental services, said the dam would be costly to repair.
Councilman Thomas E. Conkey said he would like to have more information before making a decision to demolish the dam.
"If that's a concern for the mayor, I think that's something that certainly we should consider," Conkey said.
"We may never need it," Tewalt joined in. "We may need it tomorrow. I don't want to see us get rid of a possibility that that could be an asset for us in the future."
Mohn said while the state agency would like to go ahead and reserve the funding, it would probably be a year before the demolition would begin.
Graham suggested that the town start the application process to have the dam demolished and, at the same time, get feedback from DEQ on the possibility of getting a permit to draw water from the North Fork.
Councilman N. Shae Parker said he also would like to have information regarding public safety.
"There's been quite a few deaths out there," Councilman Chris W. Holloway said.