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Bucktail Watershed Association - January 2008 Newsletter

Norfolk Southern to Pay $7.35 Million for Chemical Spill

On November 15, the State of Pennsylvania reached a settlement with Norfolk Southern over the June 2006 sodium hydroxide spill that affected Big Fill Run, the Sinnemahoning Portage Creek, the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek, and the upper reaches of the Sinnemahoning Creek. Norfolk Southern will pay a fine of $7.35 million. The fine money will be split equally between the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, with each of the agencies receiving $3,675,000.

Of the money received by the PFBC, the commission will use $93,000 to cover the costs incurred during the investigation and response to the pollution incident. The remainder of its share will be placed into an interest-bearing restricted revenue account that can be used only for the development and implementation of projects that benefit recreational fishing and boating and the aquatic resources of Cameron, McKean, Elk, and Potter Counties. Initially, the PFBC will focus on projects in the Sinnemahoning Creek Watershed upstream of the confluence with First Fork.

In March the PFBC will hold a public meeting to seek input on potential projects for the fine money and to seek public comments regarding the use of the fine money.

Of the $3,675,000 received by the Department of Environmental Protection, $500,000 will be used to cover the Department's costs associated with the response, investigation, and monitoring of the spill. The remainder will be placed into an interest bearing account under the supervision of Headwaters Resource Conservation and Development Council. This money will be used for watershed projects in the Sinnemahoning Creek Watershed upstream of the confluence with the First Fork. The focus of the project money will be on the Driftwood Branch subwatershed with projects in the Driftwood Branch and Portage Creek given preference over those in the Bennett Branch. Nevertheless, the Bennett Branch is included in the eligible potential project area.

Distribution of this money will be overseen by a stakeholders committee consisting of representatives of the McKean and Cameron County Board of Commissioners, representatives of the McKean and Cameron County Conservation Districts, two at large watershed residents, and state agency representatives. Of the representatives on the current committee, two are BWA members.

In total, of the $7.35 million in fine money received by the commonwealth in this settlement, approximately $6.76 million will be directed towards watershed related projects in the region.

The Bucktail Watershed Association plans on playing a huge part in the restoration activities that will be conducted with the settlement money. In our January meeting we will be soliciting ideas for potential projects in the Driftwood Branch watershed.


Portage Branch Fish Kill
Fish Kill along the Driftwood Branch resulting from June 30 Norfolk Southern Chemical Spill

 


BWA Develops Website

The Bucktail Watershed Association has developed a website for the organization, www.bucktailwatershed.com. Through its new website, the Bucktail Watershed Association will be able to communicate information in a more effective manner in the modern age of computers and technology.

We hope to be able to reach a wider audience, especially those who live outside the watershed, through the new website.

The website will feature a variety of information, including updates and photographs of restoration projects within the Driftwood Branch and First Fork Watersheds, watershed news, meeting minutes, watershed association newsletters, a watershed photo section, a publication section, links to other conservation organizations and much more. There will also be features allowing interested individuals to join the organization.

Questions or comments regarding the website can be emailed to Bucktail Watershed Association at bucktailwatershed@yahoo.com.



 


BWA Completes Portage Creek Project

The Bucktail Watershed Association has completed a 350 foot restoration project on the Sinnemahoning Portage Creek. The project was funded in 2005 by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grant Program.

The Portage Creek Streambank Restoration Project involved regrading a 350 foot long eroding bank to a stable bank angle. Large rock rip rap was strategically placed at the top 100 feet of bank to protect trees growing on the bank and to prevent erosion. Along the bottom 250 feet of the project seven log vane deflectors were installed to add in stream habitat cover and to help deflect the stream's energy away from the resloped bank.

Several high water storm events occurred immediately after the installation of the log vanes. The lower log vanes worked perfectly causing significant deposition of gravel against the formerly eroding bank. However, three log vanes washed out at the top of the project.

These logs were reinstalled in June of 2007, placing the butt ends of the logs farther into the bank with an excavator. The logs were anchored into the streambed using larger diameter rebar and a larger volume of rocks were shingled around their butt ends to ensure they would not wash out.

In the spring of 2007 BWA volunteers installed 300 dormant willow cuttings along the reshaped bank. A total of 400 feet of stream corridor was planted with native tree seedlings with tree tubes placed on the newly planted trees. These willows and trees will grow and root into the bank, giving it a natural look and ensuring it will be well stabilized into the future.


Portage Streamside
Portage Creek streamside being resloped

 


BWA Declares War Against Alien Invaders

Invasive plants are one of the most serious environmental threats of the twenty-first century. In our watersheds these plants often are spread by streams. They then develop populations in the riparian areas (areas of land adjacent to the stream) and outcompete the native plants. In time the degradation of the stream's riparian area leads to diminishing stream health.

The Bucktail Watershed Association has committed to tackling three of our area's worst alien plant invaders, Japanese knotweed, mile a minute vine, and purple loosestrife.

In the First Fork watershed from Big Nelson Run above Wharton downstream to Stevenson's Dam, the BWA has teamed up with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to combat mile a minute vine. This past June BWA members held a successful mile a minute vine weed pullathon and chicken barbeque with the PA Department of Ag and Sinnemahoning State Park.

Seven BWA volunteers spent an evening in July cutting Japanese knotweed in Wykoff Run in the Quehanna Wild Area. Later in September the BWA coordinated with the Elk State Forest District to have Bureau of Forestry personnel spray the knotweed with herbicide when it resprouted.

In August BWA volunteers met again to pull purple loosestrife growing in a wetland adjacent to SR 120 at the bottom of Towner Run, just west of Emporium. This population is isolated in the watershed and the BWA is attempting to eliminate it before it spreads to other areas.


Wykoff Knotweed
BWA member Kirk Bainey vs. Japanese Knotweed

 


BWA Volunteers Plant Over 700 Trees Along Driftwood Branch

On November 18 ten Bucktail Watershed Association volunteers joined efforts to plant over 700 trees along a section of the Driftwood Branch lacking forest cover.

The planting site was located at the Flynn property in Moateville. The trees were planted at a stream restoration site where the Bucktail Watershed Association had partnered with the Cameron County Conservation District on a grant project to restore approximately 450 feet of eroding streambank. The project involved grading the bank back to a stable bank angle and installing logs to deflect the water off the bank, adding habitat to the stream as well as protecting the bank from erosion.

BWA volunteers planted 500 dormant cuttings of silky dogwood, redosier dogwood, and various willow species. Also planted were 225 seedlings consisting of red and white oak, river birch, sycamore, grey dogwood, silky dogwood, and red maple. Tree tubes were installed on the tree seedlings to prevent them from being heavily browsed.

All native tree and shrub species were used in the planting. In total, approximately 550 feet of the stream corridor was planting in seedlings.

Trees are essential for maintaining health stream systems. Not only do their roots act like rebar to stabilize stream banks, but their canopy shades streams, lowering water temperatures. Additionally, in autumn leaves that fall into streams fuel the food chain with carbon by serving as an important food source for certain invertebrates such as mayfly nymphs.

The BWA is able to obtain tree seedlings for planting along side streams within our watershed area. If anyone would like tree seedlings for planting along local streams contact us at bucktailwatershed@yahoo.com or at 486-9354.


Tree Planting Project
Over 700 trees!

Tree Planting Crew
The tree planting crew

 


Fish Kill Numbers Released

With finalization of the Norfolk Southern settlement, the PA Fish Commission has released data fish kill and estimated recovery time. These results are part of a report that can be found of the Commission's website at www.fish.state.pa.us. On the eleven miles of the Sinnemahoning Portage Creek affected by the spill, there was a complete fish kill. It is estimated that about 368,000 gamefish and baitfish were killed on the Portage when the pollution slug traveled through on June 30, 2006.

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists predict a two-year recovery for invertebrate populations in the Sinnemahoning Portage Creek, a three-year recovery for populations of nongame fish species, and a six-year recovery for wild trout populations.

Along the twenty-mile section of the Driftwood Branch from Emporium downstream to Driftwood, an estimated ninety-seven percent of the smaller nongame fish species were killed in the stream's riffle and run habitats. In pools and runs, eighty percent of larger fish other than smallmouth bass were killed. Eighty-seven percent of the smallmouth bass were killed by the high pH conditions resulting from the pollution. In total, the Fish Commission report estimates that almost 150,000 fish were killed by the spill in the Driftwood Branch.

It is estimated that it will take three years for nongame fish species populations to recover on the Driftwood Branch and six years for the recovery of populations of smallmouth bass and other game species.

The Fish Commission also estimates that considerable damage was done to the Driftwood Branch's hellbender population. Hellbenders are a rare large aquatic salamander that weigh up to five pounds. It is estimated that it will take twenty-five years for the hellbender population to recover.



 


Annual Membership Meeting and Membership Renewals

The annual Bucktail Watershed Association winter membership meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 8 at 7:00 pm in the Cameron County Courthouse courtroom. Starting in December of 2007, the monthly BWA meetings have been moved to the first Tuesday of the month. However, the first Tuesday of January is New Year's day, so the meeting has been moved to the 8th.

This year's winter membership meeting will be especially interesting. All members are encouraged to attend and the general public is also invited.

Personnel from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will be on hand at the meeting to explain the settlement regarding the Norfolk Southern chemical spill and its implications on the watershed. Additionally, the BWA will be soliciting ideas for potential projects to be completed with settlement funds when they become available.

Furthermore, Todd Deluccia, Watershed Specialist for the Cameron County Conservation District, will be on hand presenting a slide show featuring recent restoration projects within the watershed.

Make it a point to come to the winter membership meeting and bring a friend. We have a lot planned for 2008. With your help we can make a difference in the Driftwood Branch and First Fork watersheds.


Gravelly Run
Winter has arrived to the Driftwood Branch and First Fork watersheds.

 


 

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