Tuesday June 4, 2013

TOWNSHEND -- An upcoming dredging project will allow Townshend Lake to reopen to swimmers for the first time since Tropical Storm Irene struck in summer 2011.

While the project's schedule is weather-dependent and is not yet set in stone, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said the goal is to allow swimming later this month -- and possibly within just a few weeks if all goes well.

"The swim area is still closed," said Dale Berkness, project manager for the Engineers-maintained lake. "We anticipate getting a dredging contractor in there, hopefully starting next week."

Townshend Lake Recreation Area, at the Engineers dam on the West River off Route 30, was open last summer. The recreation area reopened a few weeks ago for this season; information on that site and other Army Corps of Engineers recreation sites in New England is available at www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation.

But there has been no swimming allowed at Townshend Lake since Irene's floodwaters deposited a large quantity of silt there.

Tests have shown that the lake's water quality has not been an issue. But officials say Irene's flooding decreased the swim area's depth, rendering it unsafe and unusable.

"The only reason it was closed was the sediment," Berkness said.

That will change with the pending arrival of a dredging contractor. The plan is to decrease the water depth by about 5 feet to allow that as-yet-unannounced contractor to remove the accumulated sediment, Berkness said.

"It's kind of weather-dependent," he said. "If we get a lot of rain, we may not be able to keep the pool down."

He added that the Engineers is coordinating with Vermont Agency of Natural Resources officials on the process of drawing down the lake.

Removing the sediment is expected to take only three or four days, so officials are hoping the project can be completed within a week's time.

But Berkness said additional water tests may be required after work is complete.

And, given the project's weather-related uncertainties, it remains unclear exactly when the swimming area might be reopen.

Officials also plan to post signs in the area to control recreational access during the dredging work. The Townshend Lake office can be reached at 802-365-7703.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.