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NJ Historic Preservation Office recommends Lake Lenape Dam project for DEP approval
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NJ Historic Preservation Office recommends Lake Lenape Dam project for DEP approval

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HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — A project to upgrade the Lake Lenape Dam took a step forward Wednesday when the Historic Sites Council of the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office voted unanimously to recommend an approval to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The NJHPO is part of the DEP and brings expertise essential to preserving historic resources. The dam, co-owned by Hamilton Township and Atlantic County, needed an approval from the agency due to the historic nature of the structure, which is located in the township’s historic district.

The dam was built between 1849 and 1856 for use by a cotton mill, said Vincent Maresca, a NJHPO senior historic preservation specialist and archaeologist. It was reconstructed in 1978. Its powerhouse — the structure that houses generators and turbines — was added in 1920.

The mill that used the damn closed in 1949. Its buildings became part of the Wheaton complex that over the years manufactured glass and plastics but ultimately closed. The township has been trying to redevelop that site for years.

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The township became the owner of the dam in 1978, said John Peterson, head of the Atlantic County Department of Regional Planning and Development. The county became a co-owner during the 1980s, when it purchased the Lake Lenape property.

“There have been several projects over the past three decades to repair the dam, some successful, some not,” Peterson said. “During those projects, every effort has been made to preserve its historic values.”

The site is classified as a Class One High Hazard dam, meaning a breach could lead to loss of life and extensive property damage, Peterson said.

The proposed project is designed to improve the existing powerhouse and rehabilitate the dam. Improvements include the replacement of the existing wooden gates with powered steel sliding gates, the removal of existing turbines, the installation of a new electric conduit and power supply, and the repair of concrete cracks and chips inside the sluiceway. Dam rehab includes the replacement of the existing spillway, new concrete training walls and new concrete spillway slab tied in with footing piles.

Deputy Mayor Carl Pitale said he was pleased with the NJHPO’s vote, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

“There are several more permits that must be submitted before it can be advertised for bid,” Pitale said. “I believe the required paperwork for the permits has been prepared, just waiting for the county to look them over and then submit them. Most of these permits have set timelines when the various entities must render a decision, but with the pandemic and executive orders put in place by Gov. Murphy, these timelines have been waived. I plan on being relentless when it comes to pushing for approval of the required permits. This has taken long enough, and we need to get to the next step ASAP.”

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