Harrison County Commission Discusses Dam Removal with U.S. Fish and Wildlife

17July 2015
By Marisa Matyola, Harrison County Reporter

CLARKSBURG - The Harrison County Commission could soon be taking on the responsibility for three west fork dams, including the commitments in an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the dams removed.

After a vote by the Clarksburg Water Board on Tuesday, July 16, the utility is considering an offer to transfer operation of the Highland, Two-Lick and West Milford dams to county commission. The water board has been looking to get rid of the dams for years due to liability concerns.

"I'm not as concerned with the liability as I am about the preservation of what has been there for 100 years and trying to make it better."

The water board voted 2-1 in March to sign a landowner agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete the dam removal.  The utility and the agency have been working together for more than a decade on the removal project.

Callie McMunigal, NFHAP coordinator U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said, "We have spent countless hours on it.  We have invested more than $400,000 in federal tax payer funds to get to this point, conducting all of the environmental compliance documents and doing engineering design work to make sure the project is done right."

The commissioners said they are opposed to removing the dams.

Frank "Chunki" Angotti, Harrison County commissioner said," I think the people of the area are correct in saying they want the dams to stay and I am going to support the majority of what they say.  We can always take them out but we can never put them back."

Commission President Ron Watson said he is hopeful the two agencies will find a compromise that doesn't involve removing the dams.

"My goal is to compromise is there a way to obtain a balance with both the ability to protect the species of the mussel species and also utilize the benefit of the river and the pools of the water that is behind these dams."

Meanwhile the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is unsure a compromise can be met.

"While we typically look for every opportunity to partner with people.  We are a little but concerned of the public perception of wasting tax payer dollars that have already been spent," said McMunigal.

The county commission has yet to receive a formal intention of turning the dams over from the Clarksburg Water Board.