Dirt road improvements boosting water quality

Susquehanna County Conservation District director Jim Garner discusses the Dirt & Gravel Road program successes and plans for upcoming projects with Sen. Gene Yaw during a tour of projects sites on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

Susquehanna County Conservation District director Jim Garner discusses the Dirt & Gravel Road program successes and plans for upcoming projects with Sen. Gene Yaw during a tour of projects sites on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

An infusion of cash from the state’s transportation funding package could benefit not just the condition of some dirt roads in the area, but also help improve water quality.

The law, enacted in 2013, put $35 million annually into the Dirt and Gravel Road program.

Susquehanna County Conservation District Director Jim Garner said the rural county will get $1.3 million of that annual allocation – about half of the total funds given to the program in the county since it’s creation on 1997. Funding for the Dirt and Gravel Road program is allocated locally through the State Conservation Commission.

The program is designed to prevent to erosion of dirt road material to streams or other waterways. Sedimentation pollutions is the largest single pollutant of the state’s waters, according to the conservation district.
“If it’s a high priority for pollution, that’s where we want to be,” Garner told Sen. Gene Yaw (23rd-R) who toured some of the completed road projects as well as roads identified for potential work in Susquehanna County on Thursday.

Pennsylvania Association of Conservation District Executive Director Robert Maiden said, “It’s one of the most successful programs in dealing the with Chesapeake Bay.” Maiden said that the Dirt and Gravel Road program had exceeded its goals by about 400 percent.

Over 80 projects have been completed in Susquehanna County since the program began; five of those were done in 2013 for about $120,000. This year, Garner said, 18 applications for projects have been submitted.

Municipalities submit roads, or sections of roads, to be considered for the program. Those one-page applications are received by a Quality Assurance Board comprised of representatives from Natural Resource Conservation Service, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the county conservation district for approval.

Yaw said his district had more dirt and gravel roads than any other region in the state, with over 16,000 of those sites identified to be in need of repair. Susquehanna County contains more than 1,100 miles of dirt roads. About 65 of those miles were toured – highlighting about 20 completed and potential sites.

Although each project presents a unique issue, Garner said usually years of erosion has cut out the road – creating a channel with banks on either side.
Generally, fixes include raising the road profile and addressing the drainage issues, Garner said.

Susquehanna County Dirt and Gravel Road program coordinator Robert Fearnley said that once a road is completed, little maintenance is required on it for several years. Some project sites visited Thursday were completed over a decade ago – with little erosion evident.

Forest Lake Supervisor Marvin Small said his township has completed “many” dirt and gravel road projects in the past few years and the township has submitted plans for projects this year.

Small said the township now “treats all the roads like a dirt and gravel road project” raising the road elevation and addressing drainage concerns.
In addition to project sites in Forest Lake, the group also visited Franklin, Silver Lake, Choconut, Middletown, Dimock and Bridgewater townships.