KINGWOOD, W.Va. – A local organization has been awarded $100,000 to research the possible removal of the Albright Power Station Dam.
The DTE Energy Foundation made the donation to Friends of the Cheat nonprofit after many discussions of possible removal due to its large impact on the water quality.
The dam is located approximately 29.3 miles upstream from Cheat Lake and is, what officials with the Friends of Cheat are calling, the only barrier between migrating aquatic life, such as the walleye freshwater fish, throughout the entire stretch of 78.3 miles of the main stream of the Cheat River.
The reduction of water quality at the Albright Power Station Dam is concerning to officials, stating that the plant allows the slowing and stagnation of the water in the area. Officials explained that this process can often be very dangerous to both boaters and anglers in the area.
The dam was once a component to a First Energy coal-fired power plant, that was decommissioned in September 2012. The pool of water that the dam created, previously powered the plants cooling towers. Officials explained that both are now more of a hassle, with maintenance and repair needs, environmental impacts and safety concerns, that would be better off removed.
“Preserving our environment – land, air and water – is a priority for the DTE Energy Foundation,” said Lynette Dowler, President of the DTE Energy Foundation. “We’re proud to support Friends of the Cheat in their work to remove a dam that will improve aquatic life and enhance fishing along this beautiful waterway.”
Officials have studied the last 25 years of water quality and found that Cheat River water has vastly improved. Fish can be found throughout the entirety of the river, and populations in Cheat Lake show continued growth and diversity with more than 45 species logged to this date.
Dam removal would also improve water quality for previous species of fish that used to inhabit the waters, including the Eastern Hellbender and freshwater mussels, and could act as a catalyst for restoring and reintroducing in the Cheat River. Once a liability, the Cheat River is now an asset fueling the recreation renaissance throughout the region.
Recreation has also seen an increase throughout the past few years, such as whitewater paddlers and outfitters. The Cheat River and Lake are continuing to host annual bass fishing tournaments as well as competitive Global whitewater events. With the dam removed, paddlers would have the option of navigating the river nearly 162 miles from its headwaters on Shavers Fork near Snowshoe and all the way North, to Cheat Lake. Without the dam, both outfitters and private paddlers would benefit through the expansion of access sites and connected river miles enabling new types of trips and experiences.
“Removing the Albright Dam, if found feasible, is the next logical step in our mission to restore the Cheat River,” said Madison Ball, Restoration Program Manager for FOC. “FOC has dedicated 25 years to restoring the Cheat from acid mine drainage, and now we are beginning to reap the rewards: improved water quality and healthy pH, a diversity of fish species recolonizing the river– including acid-sensitive smallmouth bass and walleye, and renewed interest in river recreation. Removing this barrier allows the river to flow naturally, rather than slow artificially and drop out sediment and other material, and fish and other aquatic life can migrate upstream and downstream as needed in particular life stages.”
A qualified consulting firm will be hired to conduct a reconnaissance level study of the Albright Power Dam. Results of the study will provide information on the current structural integrity of the dam, how much sediment has accumulated behind the dam and its composition, a mapping of the bottom of the river, and calculated anticipated flows. The finished report will also include conceptual plan drawings and two potential options for removal. Additional project highlights include using environmental DNA technology to survey the Cheat River for Eastern Hellbender and collaborating with WVDNR on preliminary fish surveys.
According to The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, they have documented large improvements to the fisheries of the Cheat River watershed, due to improved water quality. They also emphasized that recreational opportunities such as fishing, and kayaking have dramatically increased. To further improve the fisheries and recreational opportunities on Cheat River, WVDNR is in favor of removing the Albright Power Station Dam.
The potential economic and environmental benefits of removing the dam prompted the interest and support of all 4 County Commissions touched by the project, upstream to downstream including Randolph, Tucker, Preston and Monongalia.
Public involvement is a critical part of this project, officials stated. The FOC and project partners will host the first public open house for community members to learn more and share ideas at a later date in fall 2020. To keep up with the latest developments of Friends of the Cheat or to possibly get involved, click here to be taken to their website.