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Portage Water Authority forced to close properties to ATVs

MAINLINE EXTRA - Thursday, September 12, 2019 - PAGE 5

By Ron Portash

of Mainline Newspapers

Unforeseen circumstances have forced the Portage Municipal Authority to close off all watershed properties to all off-road vehicles. During the last week of August, inspectors and a sanitarian from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted a filter plant performance evaluation at the Benscreek water treatment plant. The state was collecting filtration system data when a heavy rainstorm rolled through the area. The state inspectors and the sanitarian observed a rapid increase in water turbidity in the impoundment area caused by sediment pouring into the shallow impoundment area. The increase in sediment was due to the area being subject to heavy ATV traffic. The ground that would normally be covered with vegetation has been worn down and scattered with ruts caused by ATVs. The rain further eroded the area, and the sediment flowed into the water supply in the shallow reservoir. Normally, the water authority would switch to well water when events like these happen, however, the event was observed by state officials who issued a water safety inspection report to the municipal authority. As a result of this water supply inspection report, combined with a U.S. Department of Homeland Security inspection earlier in the year, the authority members voted

Hunting still permitted on watershed property

to seek an agreement with Pennsylvania Game Commission to enforce prohibition of all ATVs and UTVs on Portage Municipal Authority property at their Nov. 5 meeting. This agreement will not prevent hunting or foot traffic in the watershed areas. One of the key findings of the Department of Homeland Security evaluation was the recommendation of prohibiting off-road vehicles on watershed areas. “We always had a good relationship with people doing ATV runs for charity on watershed property,” explained authority chairman Mark Castel. Solicitor Bill Barbin further explained the issue. “The problem is, you either upset the 30 percent of people who run ATVs on the watershed or 100 percent of the customers when DEP issues a consent order and you are forced to raise rates 20 or 30 percent to install a new filtration

plant,” said Barbin. The authority members are concerned that DEP would seriously consider rejecting the permit for a new filtration plant along Bens Creek because it is classified as Exceptional Value (EV) stream. A stream that is listed as EV has its water protected at the existing quality level, and little or no changes are permitted along the stream. Once the enforcement agreement has been completed, Game Commission officers and waterway commission officers have the authority to enforce all criminal laws under the Pa. Crimes Code and the vehicle code. In recent months across the state, the Game Commission has been focusing on the upswing of ATV and UTV riding where these vehicles are prohibited. Officers who catch violators will potentially be able to fine riders hundreds of dollars for riding where prohibited.

ATV complaints, due to potential problems for wildlife habitat, consistently rank among the top 10 violations Game Commission officers deal with each year, and the Game Commission has been running task forces in each region of the state to combat the problem. In these cases, large numbers of officers in cooperation with local and state police including state police air operations, overwhelm a problem area in an attempt to stop the activity. The authority is required to create a source water protection plan to migrate or prevent the turbidity

issues at the Benscreek reservoir. The authority will look into hyrdoseeding the areas where vegetation was destroyed by ATV traffic. Authority employees said that often over 100 vehicles will pass through the Benscreek water treatment area on a weekend. The issue of handicap access for hunters will be clarified with the Game Commission as part of the protection agreement. The Game Commission also has agreements with Highland Sewer and Water Authority for its watershed and reservoir areas and the rules are strictly enforced.

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