Thursday, July 5, 2018

Op-Ed: Raystown Lake Threatened By Incompatible, Unsustainable Development, Army Corps Is Collecting Public Comments

A developer from Texas wants to lease 400 acres of wild federal public land managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a resort on Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula, a tongue of land that extends into Lake Raystown in Huntingdon County near mile maker #2 near the dam.
The developer proposes to construct a restaurant, a 150-slip marina, cabins, campsites, hiking trails, an environmental learning center and more on the Hawn’s Bridge peninsula. A map of the proposed development can be found at the bottom of this webpage.
The USACE website states that Raystown Lake Dam is vital to the protection of downstream communities along the Juniata River and is critical to the comprehensive flood control plan of the Susquehanna River basin.
Equally important, Raystown Lake also has an active sustainability program with a goal to maintain and enhance the quality of existing resources.
Major Concerns Are Many
Several groups have spoken out against the development because of the negative impact that the proposed development will have on the area.
The Juniata Valley Audubon Society states on their website that the Hawn's Bridge peninsula is part of the Raystown Dam Natural Heritage Area (Biological Diversity Area) identified in the Huntingdon County Natural Heritage Inventory.
The Inventory characterizes such areas as "containing plants or animals of special concern at state or federal levels, exemplary natural communities, or exceptional native diversity."
The study investigated plant and animal species and natural communities that are unique or uncommon in the county. It also explored areas important for general wildlife habitat and scientific study.
JVAS’s position for ecological and aesthetic reasons is to strongly support the designation of the Hawn's Bridge peninsula as an Environmentally Sensitive Area and the designation of Terrace Mountain as a Low Density, Limited Recreation area.
The PA Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has expressed their opposition to the development of the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.
According to their position paper, if allowed, they feel that this proposal would decrease public hunting and fishing opportunity in a wild and natural setting and in part transfer control of public access to a private entity. They state further, game species inhabiting the peninsula include deer, bear, turkey and small game.
The waters surrounding it provide anglers a place to catch catfish, carp, bass (including striped, largemouth, rock, and smallmouth), walleye, muskellunge, trout, Atlantic salmon, and a host of panfish.
In addition, the peninsula is classified as shale barrens, a habitat type that supports rare species of plants and animals.
The PA Striped Bass organization has expressed concerns that the marinas that the developer has proposed to be built on both sides of the Hawn’s peninsula would adversely affect underwater habitat that the striped bass relies on from May to September.
Striped bass stay around the Hawn’s peninsula during this time due to a number of ecological factors, water temperature, oxygen levels, and underwater structures. Striped bass fishermen and women from far and wide recognize Raystown Lake for its superb striped bass fishing.
Engaging The Public
A group of concerned citizens have formed The Coalition To Protect Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula. Their focus is to preserve the undeveloped Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula and public lands of Raystown Lake.
Their mission is to focus on a longstanding maintenance of the region’s natural environment in cooperation with Friends of Raystown Lake, Game Commission, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and to partner with other like-minded organizations and clubs to provide a unified front in opposing the development of the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.
Their hope is for the lake to remain a place with diverse offerings of recreational opportunities like boating, fishing, hunting, biking, and hiking.
The group is 600+ strong and as advocates for current and future stewards of the peninsula and surrounding region, endeavors to consider and stop detrimental factors that will diminish the area’s remote, serene and unspoiled beauty.
Their hope for the lake is that it not be leased for development and remains a paradise that continues to draw visitors for recreation in a natural environment.
The group’s goals are to heighten community awareness of the conservation of natural resources while supporting recreational enhancement that responsibly values the peaceful setting, to stay abreast of current plans, research and development and to champion the privilege to protect the peninsula’s quality for future generations.
According to the Coalition president, George Conrad, the group is working on two fronts to support maintaining the peninsula and other undeveloped public lands around the lake in their current state.
The first is public outreach as they want people to know what is being proposed and how they can get involved.
The group has an active marketing team that has produced yard signs and flyers, is renting four billboards in the area and is actively soliciting media attention.  
Also, the group has a website and a presence on social media-- Facebook-- to continue to attract public support.
Master Plan Update
The second front that the group is active in acting as a resource for the Army Corps of Engineers to gauge public opinion as they revise the Master Plan for Raystown Lake.
Members of the group have met with USACE officers privately, attend their public meetings, and engage them with our comments and questions.
Ultimately it is the decision of USACE that will guide the future of the lake and the relationship that has been developed is something that they highly value.
The Coalition believes that any development of the peninsula would destroy large game fishing on the lake.
We have learned that hunters are concerned, as they would lose access to public land that is full of deer, bear, turkeys, and small game and projects like the improvements made by the Wild Turkey Federation-PA would be lost.
However, a real blow goes to disabled hunters, as this is one of the areas that they are allowed access to and the area is very suitable for them to hunt.
The Army Corp of Engineers is currently in the process of collecting information to rewrite the Master Plan for Raystown Lake near Huntingdon, PA. The first plan was developed in 1977 and updated in 1994.
The USACE website states that the Master Plan is the strategic land use management document that guides the comprehensive management and development of all project recreational, natural and cultural resources.
The Master Plan includes land use classifications that govern the way land is managed and used to provide good stewardship and outdoor recreation to meet the needs created by the lake itself.
August Public Meetings
The Corps of Engineers will hold public meetings on August 11 and 12 at the Raystown Lake Visitor’s Center to give the public an opportunity to submit their ideas, comments and feedback on a revised Master Plan.  Click Here for more.
Call for Action and Support
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take public opinion through October 2018.
The Coalition and the other aforementioned groups encourage everyone to write to USACE to provide comments and express your opinions about the rewrite of the Master Plan for Raystown Lake. (See the USACE website.)
A sign in the Visitor Center at the lake calls Raystown Lake the “Crown Jewel” of Pennsylvania, a designation it acquired as a result of its natural, unspoiled setting. This is a label it would surely lose if the Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula were opened to development.
Please help to keep Raystown Lake undeveloped for generations to come. Please write to USACE today.
For more information, visit the The Coalition To Protect Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula website.
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