SUNBURY — The early closure of the Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam due to repairs is in September due to historically low water levels, according to Alan Lichtenwalner, the regional manager of the Northcentral Region of State Park for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
DCNR announced this week that boating season will end Tuesday, Sept. 3, the day after Labor Day, approximately a month before normal closure. Emergency work will require full deflation of the rubber, inflatable dam and drawdown of Lake Augusta for the latter portion of this season, which normally extends into early October.
"Traditionally, everything is weather-dependent," said Lichtenwalner. "Late August into September are the lowest water levels, and it's easiest to work in the rivers at the lowest levels of the year. It gives us the safest and best condition to work. The later we do it, we run the risk of bad weather and high water. It's a short window of opportunity. We have to take advantage of it."
The bags need warmer temperatures to operate correctly, so it must be done before the temperature gets lower, he said.
Boating season on the Susquehanna River starts in May when the bags of the Adam T. Bower Memorial Dam are inflated, creating the 3,000-acre Lake Augusta. The season ends each September and the dam is lowered in early October.
After high water in June, the park detected air pressure dropping in Bag 6. During three weeks of around-the-clock work and monitoring, park staff discovered several small punctures in the bag, as well as damage to the air piping system. Staff had successfully made temporary repairs to keep the dam inflated, maintaining the recreational pool for continued public boating and water access.
"The park staff has done a great job this summer, and they busted their tails to keep it going so we could make it through Labor Day," said Lichtenwalner. "We hope everything holds, but we can't keep operating like this in the future. We want to be sure for 2020 we have a good, solid bag there and we won't have these issues in the new season."
The work will not require a causeway, and it will be done in house with park and engineering staff as well as a bag consultant. The scope and length of the project is not known until they can get there to inspect the bag and system, he said.
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108, said her office has been putting the information out on Facebook and email alerts. She is still fielding questions and is considering a public meeting to answer questions about the closure.
"September is beautiful on the river, of course, we're disappointed," Culver said. "I think DCNR is sick about it. It affects restaurants, campgrounds, all types of things, and owning a boat is not cheap."
This is the second time since 2017 that boating season was cut short. When the last two bags were replaced in 2017, the boating season ended early by more than a month, which affected seasonal businesses, boaters and the docks at the Sunbury Riverfront Park.
The inflatable bags have a life expectancy of 25 years. Bag one on the Sunbury side and bag seven on the Shamokin Dam side were installed in 1985 and replaced in 2017, and bags two and three were installed in 2000. Shikellamy State Park Manager Nicholas Sherlock said bag six was installed around 2010.
Lichtenwalner said that Labor Day weekend on Lake Augusta is not canceled. That's the last holiday weekend at the park before the boating season is finished on Sept. 3.
Andrew Miller, the executive director of the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors' Bureau, said the closure is a disappointment.
"We always pay attention to when it will close so we can let water enthusiasts know how long they can enjoy recreation on the Susquehanna River," he said. "Those who were planning on enjoying river recreation in September and October will be disappointed, but we'll do our best to make sure they're aware of all the other recreation opportunities in the Susquehanna River Valley, including canoeing, kayaking and fishing. We'll make sure that tourists know of the early closing and will also work with our campgrounds along the river to be sure they're stocked with brochures and information on events and attractions in September and October."