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Residents stand up for 1908 Frank Bentz dam

Pamela Rigaux
Frederick News Post

A sportsman fishes from the dam at the Frank Bentz Memorial Lake on Md. 77 west of Thurmont.  ( photo by Skip Lawrence)

A sportsman fishes from the dam at the Frank Bentz Memorial Lake on Md. 77 west of Thurmont.

(11/11/2004) — A 1908 stone dam, built to generate power to the town of Thurmont, is electrifying a debate about its fate.

The 12-foot-high dam runs across a 60-foot stretch of Hunting Creek, a Monocacy River tributary.

Upstream is the , Frank Bentz Memorial Pond. Though only four feet deep, the pond has become "synonymous" with the town, said Commission President Martin Bums.

For generations, families have come to the pond to relax and fish. They continue to fish, though in recent years there are fewer fish to catch.

State officials say the dam is in danger of failing and needs to be repaired or removed.

A plan to repair the dam and dredge the stream was not approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps has asked the town to consider alternative plans.

The fish must have a way to swim through or over the dam, Joseph DaVia, an environmental specialist for the Army Corps in Baltimore, said.

"You want to open up the stream so you have a moving population of fish and other species," Mr. DaVia said. "Right now, there's not a way for the fish to get through.

"If the dam was removed, you'd have no blockage for native species to move from essentially the park down Hunting Creek, all the way into the Monocacy then into the Potomac."

A letter he gave to commis-sioners and others at the town meeting Tuesday suggested three alternatives:

• Incorporate a fish ladder on one side of the dam. A fish ladder is similar to a water ramp.

• Remove the dam and create a pond next to Hunting Creek.

• Stream restoration and total removal of the dam.

Residents as well as Maryland Del. Paul Stull, R-4A, packed the Town Hall meeting room.

Commission President Martin Burns told state officials, "No one in the room wants the dam removed"

The current plan would require town and county to maintain the dam once repairs are made.

"We need to see how much it will cost the town," Mr. Burns said. "I don't want to change the plan, no matter what the price is, but it doesn't hurt to see the facts..

Residents spoke in favor of the plan.

`As long as there is no locked-in dredging, I think we'd only need to clean it every 25 years," said Thurmont resident Dennis Smith.

Another resident, DonaldLewis said, "A fish ladder is ridiculous." He said the pond is so shallow that fish can already jump in or out, over the dam.

Sunfish have been put there by local people and the pond is stocked with trout twice a year, according to Mr. Smith.

Residents said creating a pond offstream would require blasting through rocks.

"I would like to see the pond stay," said John Kinnaird. "I can't stress enough, we should keep the dam."

Mr. Stull wanted to know what led to the "snafu." He lobbied for the current plan and said he believed construction was going to begin.

According to Neal Welch, Mary-land Department of Natural Resources' Western Region chief, the state bid on the project before sending it to the Corps of Engineers.

Bids were allowed because they expected the corps would sign off on it without any problem, he said.

But it wasn't until a state public notice about the project came across Mr. DaVia's desk in June that he saw it for the first time, he said.

It was then that he saw a problem.

He usually issues permits readily for projects less than an acre, he said. But the pond site and region around the dam totaled 112 acres. That meant the impact is large enough to require more stringent standards.

Read Chris Patterson's article Bentz dam

Read other articles on Thurmont