The state of New Jersey has issued the necessary permits to move forward with the construction of a new dam at Lake Surprise in the Watchung Reservation, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced Thursday, May 29.
Fish will be removed from the lake on Thursday and Friday, May 29 and 30, with the actual draining of the lake expected to get under way in early June.
“The county’s Engineering Department regularly reviews the conditions of all dams in the county,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak. “It’s a very old structure and it needs rebuilding and repair.”
Work on the new dam is expected to take a year to complete, but may take longer, depending upon weather conditions. However, county officials are hopeful that the lake will only be out of commission for one summer.
The Lake Surprise project will involve replacing the dam to meet modern dam-safety standards. While upgrades have been made to the dam over the years, the dam’s earthen core dates back to 1845.
The areas that will be affected during the construction period are the dam itself and the road from the lower loop parking lot leading to the dam, which will be used by contractors. Workers will be on site from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Ritacco Construction Co. Inc., of Belleville, was awarded a $3,608,000 contract for the Lake Surprise Dam rehabilitation.
With work being started this summer, it should only affect this summer season. Downstream communities will not be affected by the draining of the lake.
Draining is necessary to assure the safety of the workers who are rebuilding the dam, and it may also have another benefit, by killing off some of the vegetation clogging the lake, according to county officials.
The project will also include improvements to the dam at Seeley’s Pond, which is downstream from Lake Surprise, on the western border of the Watchung Reservation.