A proposed fish passage to allow Lehigh River trout to migrate to the cold waters of the Pohopoco Creek and to potential spawning areas on its Sawmill Run tributary has been proposed by the Lehigh River Stocking Association,. The project is on hold pending funding approval, and the clock is ticking.

The Parryville Dam on the Pohopoco Creek is used to impound water for use by the Palmerton Borough. The dam is located in the Borough of Parryville, three miles downstream of the Beltzville Dam and 200 yards upstream of the Lehigh River.

Pohopoco Creek, which combines the spring-fed waters of the Sawmill Creek and the deeper water discharges of Beltzville Dam, a dam that was designed to provide a cold water discharge, has water temperatures that are several degrees cooler than the Lehigh River, and is a major factor in making the river a cold water fishery.

Wherever a dam exists, fish are blocked from passage, and it has been a goal in Pennsylvania to either remove legacy dams or provide them with fish passages.

The Lehigh River Stocking Association, a nonprofit organization that has been restoring the trout fishing in the Lehigh River for the last 21 years is proposing a fish passage for the Parryville Dam, and hopes to fund the $186,000 project from a portion of the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund settlement.

In 2009, CBS Operations Inc., TCI Pacific Communications Inc., CBS/Westinghouse of Pa. Inc., HH Liquidating Corp. and HRD Liquidating Corp., agreed to a settlement of nearly $24 million to address natural resource damages resulting from decades of zinc smelting. The agreement was to transfer 1,200 acres of Kings Manor property valued at $8.72 million, to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and have the cash funds of $9.875 million administered by the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Trustee Council. The Lehigh River Stocking Association has proposed the Parryville Dam Fish Ladder and has applied for funding through the Council.

"In 2007, the Lehigh River Stocking Association had an idea of putting a fish ladder on the Parryville Dam," explained Matt MacConnell, president of the LRSA.

"I contacted the owners of the dam, the Palmerton Borough. I first asked him to remove the dam. They responded 'absolutely not'. They store water behind the dam and it is a revenue stream. It's a backup system for drinking water but it is mainly for industrial users, principally for Horsehead Industries."

"I went to a Palmerton Borough meeting and made a presentation and asked them if they would let us perform a fish study at the Parryville Dam. They voted 3 to 2 in favor of the LRSA doing the study."

"We received a $10,000 grant from the Sierra Club for the fish study," MacConnell said. "I engaged an engineering company and together we put together a 35-page report that concluded that we could do it for about $180,000."

"I contacted an engineering company that has put in more than a dozen of these fish ladders and we are partnering with them. I've been talking with the Fish and Boat Commission."

While looking for a source to fund the project, MacConnell found out that there was a deadline approaching for submitting projects. "So, I submitted this project for a $186,000 request to construct a fish ladder to aid migration from both the Lehigh River and the Pohopoco Creek."

"This would enhance the trout population in the Lehigh River by offering up all that cold water for spawning and basic survival in the summer," MacConnell, who is an environmental engineer, said. "Currently, the fish just stack up below the dam. There's not enough food or habitat for all the fish. So, they just get slaughtered by all the fishermen."

"It has been one year since we submitted the proposal. They wrote to me, Fish and Wildlife said that they were deferring a decision on the fish ladder until the results of the lower Lehigh River dam removal studies. These are the Easton Dam and the Chain Dam. They have been working on this for about one year now."

It's been a year since MacConnell submitted the proposal. "They have had plenty of time to think about it. Plenty of time to understand whatever legal aspects there are with that dam. In the meantime, we have received approval from our insurance company, and the Palmerton Borough Council has voted to allow us to put up the fish ladder on the dam if we get funding. I've got an engineering contractor ready to go, Alden Research Laboratory. The project is basically shovel ready."

The proposed fish passage is an Alaskan Steeppass design. The passage is fabricated of aluminum and from the outside, it looks like rectangular ductwork sections 15 inches wide by 24 inches tall. Inside, the passage has a series of chevron-shaped baffle structures whose small winged dams form eddies to slow the water flow making it more natural for the fish to work their way to the top of the dam. "When the water flushes down there, the water eddies against these baffles and it takes the energy out of the water so that the fish can swim right up," MacConnell explained.

The fish ladder is to be made in five sections, three section to step diagonally to the top of the dam and two sections to get diagonally back to the part of the river to get sufficient flow. MacConnell hopes to have it fabricated locally.

"Relative to the concrete fish passages on the Hamilton Street Dam and the Easton Dam, which are very expensive-at least $1 million and maybe more-and they don't work, this is affordable, and it has proven effective."

"Of all the $20 million of the settlement fund, how much of it was spent on the aquatic resources in the Palmerton area so far," MacConnell said. "The answer is zero."