Local Dredging Companies Question Value of Fish Surveys

Article excerpt

Three commercial dredging companies are appealing recent state requirements that make them survey fish populations in new permit areas to extract sand and gravel from the Allegheny and Ohio rivers.

A Kittanning-based dredging company, Glacial Sand and Gravel, along with Hanson Aggregates PMA in New Kensington and Tri-State River Products of Beaver are bucking the new requirement for fish surveys because the studies are costly and scientifically questionable and could further restrict permitted areas for dredging, according to one dredger.

Every five years, commercial dredgers that work in the Allegheny and Ohio rivers -- rich in sand and gravel harvested for road projects and building materials -- have to renew their permits with several regulatory agencies including the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Current permits allow dredging in designated sections of the Allegheny River -- pools 4, 5, 7, and 8, stretching from Harrison Township in Allegheny County to Washington Township in Armstrong County, and in the Montgomery and New Cumberland pools of the Ohio River in Beaver County.

The state Fish and Boat Commission recommended doing the pre- dredge surveys to determine numbers and species in the water.

The DEP renewed the dredging permits in June of 2006, but added new, first-time requirements for pre-dredging surveys of mussels and fish, tests of the oxygen levels in the water and funding for habitat restoration. The dredgers accepted all the new requirements except the fish survey.

The newly required fish studies "serve no purpose except to generate data on the how many and what types of fish are present generally in the river which is surveyed," said Mark Snyder, corporate secretary for Glacial Sand and Gravel, which filed appeal with the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board last year. The surveys "do not and cannot tell you whether a fish will be affected by dredging or whether dredging has had any effects on fish, nor do they tell you anything about long-term 'fish habitat,'" Snyder said.

The dredging companies' appeal focuses on a long-running debate on whether dredging is harmful to fish populations. …