Popular Washington Co. Recreation Spot Could Soon Become Big Empty Hole

COKEBURG (KDKA) — Some local avid outdoorsmen know the fight to preserve a century-old landmark is going to take a new-age approach.

Efforts to save Cokeburg Dam in Washington County went viral after the Department of Environmental Protection ordered the club that operates it to drain all of the water out of it.

“It was devastating. That’s why I’m standing here right now,” says Chad Strennen, of the Ellsworth Sportsmen’s Club. “I did all kinds of stuff on social media – sent pictures, requests for people to post photos and memories and stuff.”

“To think they might lose one of the nicest recreation spots in the area,” said George Burcin, a former president of the Ellsworth Sportsmen’s Club. “We’re all small coal mining towns, and all these kids from the Bentworth area and other school districts enjoy this lake.”

Cokeburg Council says the repairs mandated by the DEP to prevent potential flooding would cost over a million dollars.

“So this dam hasn’t moved, hasn’t threatened anybody for well over a hundred years,” said Chuck Yurchick, a retired geologist.

Many say draining the lake would actually pose a safety hazard. At least five fire departments use it to battle fires.

“You take that away; you might as well be telling every person in this room, we don’t care about you anymore. Your house is going to burn down,” said Cokeburg VFC Chief Travis Lohr. “Honestly, we can only do so much.”

But there will be a hefty fine if the borough doesn’t comply. KDKA has learned that fine could cost up to $5,000 a day.

Sen. Camera Bartlotta says she has questions for the DEP as well andplans to head to Harrisburg to get answers.

Riverfront development a focus of Blawnox, Aspinwall joint plan effort

Continued revitalization in Aspinwall and Blawnox will depend on riverfront development, leaders said this week as they announced a joint comprehensive plan.

“The plan is a vehicle to formally address some common goals,” Blawnox Manager Jack Nolan said.

Aspinwall Manager Melissa Lang said council will apply for a $43,000 grant through the Allegheny County Department of Planning to assist with plan development.

“Ours hasn’t been done in 30 years,” she said. “We’re looking to update it to meet our current goals. We want it to reflect what the town looks like now.”

Together, leaders hope to expand the municipal tax base through growth of nature-oriented small business, Nolan said.

“We want to develop and improve non-motorized links between the communities to connect attractions like boat marinas and parks,” he said.

Lang said discussions will target environmental enhancements such as a water trail and more land paths. The plan will provide a regional look, she said, but also focus on individual needs.

“Each municipality will have our own goals but we will also work together to see how we can use resources,” she said.

Nolan said Blawnox has not had a comprehensive plan “in recent memory.”

Planning commissions in both Blawnox and Aspinwall recommended that councils work together on a plan, he said.

Nolan also said the state and county recommend that existing plans be updated every 10 years.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.