The clock is ticking for Reading to find a solution to Bernhart Dam.
The state Department of Environmental Protection designated it a high-risk dam and told the city it needed to remove or replace the structure in 2016.
“Bernhart Dam remains in poor condition and should be rehabilitated or breached,” the reported stated.
Monday night at City Council’s committee of the whole meeting, council learned that the dam will no longer be covered by insurance four months from now.
“What has come to our attention is the insurance company is forcing us to dewater,” said Stan Rugis, deputy public works director and capital project manager. “As of the first of the year, the city of Reading will not be able to have that dam insured.”
The city is seeking bids for companies to lower the water level behind the dam, Rugis said.
The dam is owned by the city but is located in Muhlenberg Township.
“This is an issue we have been trying to tackle for many years with several administrations, ” said Council President Jeffrey S. Waltman Sr. “It’s not an easy one.”
Rugis said there are issues with the spillways and that some of the coffer dams are starting to degrade.
“We need to address them quickly,” he said. “Once it is dewatered, we will inspect the dam.”
The state wants the dam removed, Rugis added.
“However, once we get further we can understand the physical construction,” Rugis said. “I can tell you she was built very well and very sturdy, but you just don’t know. That’s why we are moving forward with this.”
Once the city lowers the water level in the dam, there will be another problem.
Bernhart Park, where the dam is located, is contaminated with lead from the former Exide Technologies plant.
In phase two of the project, the city would work with partners such as the county and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the site, Rugis said.
The next phase would be remediation and further discussion with the DEP and EPA, Rugis said.
Another matter the city has to consider is the surrounding park.
“There has been an ecosystem that has developed over the 100-plus years that has developed into something other than a stream bed,” Rugis said.
Councilwoman Donna Reed asked Mayor Eddie Moran’s administration to meet with Muhlenberg residents about the future of the dam.
“They people that live around it are very invested around it,” she said. “We certainly owe them that explanation.”
The administration agreed and said it would discuss the plans with the township.
Source: Berkshire mont