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Owl Creek reservoirs a valuable asset

Published January 02. 2010 09:00AM

Dear Editor:

The Owl Creek Reservoirs served as the drinking supply for many generations of Tamaquans. Even though the reservoirs are no longer used as drinking water, they are still a valuable asset to Tamaqua.

The nearly 1,000 acres surrounding the reservoirs, which were once closed to the public, are now open year-round for people to enjoy. Scores of people already take advantage of this unique natural area for walking, bird-watching, hiking, boating, fishing, photography and other outdoor activities. In addition, the all-volunteer Owl Creek Reservoir Commission hosts community activities like "Owl Creek Christmas" and the "Owl Creek Hayrides." The volunteers have improved the area with parking, bathrooms, a boat dock and a rentable picnic pavilion.

Certainly not every Tamaqua resident utilizes the recreation area at the Owl Creek Dams but, collectively, all Tamaquans own and are responsible for them. The same is true for every community owned asset-from stop-signs to the Bungalow.

There is considerable disagreement-both in the community and among council members-as to what to do with the Owl Creek Dam area. Should the land be developed with housing/commercial areas or should it be preserved in its current natural state? (Personally, I advocate preservation). Either way, repairing the dams and keeping the water resource is the top priority. Water significantly increases the development value or preservation value of the land. More importantly, we should leave our grandchildren and great- grandchildren an inheritance of abundant clean water just like our predecessors gave us.

Paying to restore the two dams has always been the problem. With a $6.5 million price tag, the repairs have always been out of the reach of our economically challenged community. Until now.

It took several years for Tamaqua Borough Council to prepare the studies and plans necessary to submit an application for competitive funding to fix the dams. Tamaqua was rewarded for that work earlier this year with a state grant of more than $5 million which will pay for 75 percent of the costs to replace the dams. To finance the local match, Council placed a question on the ballot in November asking voters to approve or disapprove the borrowing of $1.5 million for the dam repairs. The measure passed and now council has the unenviable job of increasing taxes to pay for it. Even with voter approval, it is tough to raise taxes and even more so in difficult economic times.

This Borough Council has cut spending in the 2010 budget by reducing staff, reducing equipment purchases, negotiating good labor contracts, lowering workers compensation costs, purchasing bulk electricity, converting to low-energy traffic lights and purchasing the Borough streetlights to qualify for a discounted utility rate. Repairing the Owl Creek Dams, however, is still a top priority. From a budgetary standpoint, there is no "good time" to finance the repairs to the Owl Creek Dams. For many years it was uncertain whether Tamaqua would be able to keep the dams and the Owl Creek water resource. Thankfully, our community is pulling together to save our dams for current and future Tamaquans to enjoy.

Micah Gursky

Tamaqua Borough Council

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