Hankins Pond Dam

Constructed by hand prior to the American Industrial Revolution as one of some 200 reservoirs designed to feed the Delaware & Hudson Canal, the 1000-foot-long dam stands 26 feet at its center, and the pond was once used to propagate trout for the Pleasant Mount State Fish Hatchery.

Dubbed a high-hazard dam because of the potential for damage to life and property downstream in the event of a breach, the pond is no longer used by the hatchery, and the impoundment, which once covered 90 acres, was drained back in 2013.

However, engineers at the PA Fish & Boat Commission say the hazard still exists because the remaining dam structure would hold back water, during a major flood event, that might compromise the dam. So the current plan would demolish about 75 feet of the structure on either side of the existing outlet.

In 2016, Pennsylvania made plans to provide more than $53 million to the Fish & Boat Commission to address 10 of these high-hazard dams, including Miller, White Oak and Lower Woods Pond, two other D&H feeder ponds built in Wayne County in the 1830s that have also been drained as a precaution. However, both Belmont and Lower Woods were open to the public for fishing and boating, and engineers are working on designing new structures to reconstitute them.

Not so, with Hankins Pond. Wayne County Commissioners Brian Smith, Wendell Kay and Joseph Adams have researched the possibility of taking possession of the dam, but have been unable to find a way to meet the dam safety requirements at a reasonable cost.

Chiefly, the Commissioners would like to see the state create an alternate spillway that would not require the demolition of a 150-foot-long swath of the historic structure. (Read the County Commissioners' Letter to Gov Tom Wolf)

“We’d like them to find a way to get around the dam, rather than just blow a hole through the middle of it,” explained Commissioner Brian Smith. “We’d like them to do something less overall destructive.”

Wayne County has long built upon the legacy of the Delaware & Hudson canal. Honesdale, the county seat, served as western terminus of the canal, and it claims the honor of the birthplace of the American railroad thanks to the D&H Canal Co. and its gravity railroad.

The county has invested in its canal heritage through support of the Wayne County Historical Society and its Lock 31 Canal Park near Hawley, as have the towns along the Lackawaxen River. The destruction of the dam would sully those efforts.

The feeder impoundments, like Hankins Pond, played a critical role in the operation of the D&H Company’s slack-water navigation during the dryer months of summer. In fact, the PA Supreme Court ruled in 1850 these ponds were so necessary to the function of the canal that they could not be taxed by either state or local governments.

The County Commissioners have engaged with State Sen. Lisa Baker and State Rep. Jonathan Fritz in urging the Fish & Boat Commission to find alternatives and brought public and legal pressure to bear on the project. Some 1,200 local residents signed a petition in the summer of 2018 asking the PA Fish & Boat Commission to Save Hankins Pond Dam.

As the demolition loomed In the fall of 2018, the Commissioners petitioned the County Court of Common Pleas for an injunction to stop the Fish & Boat Commission from moving ahead with the project after receiving approval  this spring from the PA Department of Environmental Protection to proceed.

The Court granted a temporary stay to give the three entities time to work out a possible solution, allowing the County's representatives to complete hydraulic and hydrologic studies at the site. 

In the intervening months, the county pursued negotiations with the Fish & Boat Commission as well as the Department of Environmental Protection, which had labeled Hankins Pond a high hazard dam and required the breaching to protect life and property downstream. A smaller breach had already been cut from the Delaware & Hudson Canal-era dam in 2013.

On Thursday, County Solicitor Lee Krause said an agreement has been successfully negotiated but for a few items, and he believes those issues can and will be satisfactorily settled prior to Wednesday’s hearing in Wayne County Court. However, the Commissioners do not have another business session before that so they approved a resolution authorizing them to execute the consent order and agreement when appropriate.

The Commissioners went a step further and also authorized a grant application to the Local Share Account (Monroe County gaming funds) for the $432,000 needed to rehabilitate the dam and develop the property for recreation, education and fire protection. The grant deadline is Monday.

The resolution also includes a commitment of $76,000 from the county’s Act 13 (natural gas funds) money.

The County Commissioners hope to have an agreement in hand to save the Hankins Pond Dam before a scheduled hearing on the matter Oct. 2, 2019,