Friends of the Cheat has been awarded $100,000 from the DTE Foundation to study the removal of the Albright Power Station Dam. Located 29.3 miles upstream of Cheat Lake, this obsolete dam is the only barrier to aquatic passage for migrating species of fish, such as walleye, throughout the entire 78.3 mile-long Cheat River main stem. The Albright Power Station Dam reduces water quality by allowing water to slow and stagnate and is a dangerous hazard to boaters and anglers. The dam is a component of a First Energy coal-fired power plant decommissioned in September 2012. The pool created by the dam once fed the plant’s cooling towers. The plant and dam remain as relics. Removal will eliminate the burdens of maintenance and repair along with any safety concerns.
“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.”
Over the last 25 years, Cheat River water quality has vastly improved. Fish can be found throughout the entirety of the river, and populations in Cheat Lake show continued growth and diversity with over 45 species logged. Removing the Albright Power Station Dam would improve river habitat for aquatic life, including pollution-sensitive walleye and smallmouth bass. Dam removal would also improve water quality for once-present species, including the Eastern Hellbender and freshwater mussels, and could act as a catalyst for restoring and reintroducing these sensitive species in the Cheat River.
Once a liability, the Cheat River is now an asset fueling the recreation renaissance throughout the region. Whitewater paddlers have returned and outfitters are seeing renewed interest. The Cheat River and Lake are hosting annual bass fishing tournaments as well as competitive Global whitewater events. With the dam removed, paddlers could navigate the river 162 miles from its headwaters on Shavers Fork near Snowshoe, WV 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 (tubing, SUP, multi-day trips, races, etc.).
“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, “WVDNR has documented incredible improvements to the fisheries of the Cheat River watershed due to improved water quality. Consequently, 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 WVDNR anticipates that riverine habitat and angling opportunities on one of the premier smallmouth bass fishing rivers in northern West Virginia will be improved. Additionally, an ever-increasing walleye population in Cheat Lake will have the opportunity to expand upstream past Albright once the dam is removed, potentially providing another recreational opportunity for Cheat River anglers.”
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: Randolph, Tucker, Preston, and Monongalia.
Public involvement is a critical part of this project. FOC and project partners will host the first public open house for community members to learn more and share ideas this fall.