HONESDALE – The Wayne County Commissioners seek the support of the community in trying to alter the fate of the historic 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.
“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.”
The front of the dam is in plain view to motorists traveling Route 670 just south of Pleasant Mount, in Mount Pleasant Township.
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 which operates D&H Canal Park at Lock 31 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, now they are hoping to bring pubic pressure to bear on the project. An online petition has been launched, and Wayne County residents, and visitors, are asked to sign the petition at https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-the-hankins-pond-dam-from-demolition.html.
The Fish & Boat Commission recently received approval from the PA Department of Environmental Protection to proceed with the demolition project, which could begin in the coming weeks.