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WV DNR: Hatchery repairs are finally forthcoming

By JOHN McCOY

Charleston Gazette-Mail

Things are looking up for West Virginia’s warm-water fish hatcheries.

Division of Natural Resources officials have met with companies expected to bid on work to fix major problems at the Apple Grove and Palestine hatcheries. If bids are made and accepted, fish production at both facilities should return to normal.

Sometime later this year, workers at West Virginia’s Apple Grove Hatchery will be able to fill the facility’s 5-acre reservoir to capacity. Tears in its fabric liner have prevented that from happening for years. The liner repairs will allow the 17-year-old facility to return to its normal fish-rearing capacity.
(Photo by John McCoy)

“The ball is rolling,” said Jim Hedrick, the DNR’s supervisor of hatcheries. “I think we’re now on track to get things repaired that have needed it for a long time.”

Both hatcheries have had trouble with the reservoirs that provide water to the facilities’ main buildings and to the ponds where fish are grown. At Apple Grove, the reservoir can’t be filled because of rips in its waterproof fabric liner. At Palestine, the reservoir can’t be filled to capacity because its earthen retaining wall had sprung a leak.

“As the pond liner at Apple Grove has continued to rip [deeper], we have to lower the water level,” Hedrick explained. “If it gets below a certain point, we won’t have [hydraulic] head to push water into the hatchery building.

“At Palestine, we pump water [from the Little Kanawha River] to the reservoir, but we can only pump a little because of its limited capacity. It takes several [pump-and-drain] cycles to fill a pond. If we could fill the reservoir to its capacity, we’d be able to fill any pond just by opening a valve.”

Problems with Palestine’s 54-year-old intake pump aren’t helping the situation. Hedrick said the pump can only be run at about half its normal flow rate.

“We have to be careful how we use that pump. We don’t want it to go out on us or we would lose all our [fish-rearing] capacity at Palestine,” he said. “Fortunately we’re in the process of getting it replaced. Last week we had a pre-bid meeting for purchase and installation of a new pump.”

The improvements at both facilities will give hatchery workers considerably more room to grow fish, and much more freedom in the way they do it.

“Over the past several years we’ve lost a considerable amount of pond capacity,” Hedrick said. “With the ponds that are left, we’re kind of putting all our eggs in one basket. If one of the ponds fails, we won’t have a backup.”

 That, he added, has the potential to cause shortages in the number of fish that the hatcheries could provide.

Unlike trout hatcheries, which produce only trout, warm-water hatcheries produce several different species — most notably, bass, walleye, muskellunge, catfish and bluegills. As things stand, hatchery workers will have to juggle their fish-rearing schedules to maintain the system’s anticipated production.

Hedrick hopes to see work begin early this summer on the pond liners at Apple Grove and the pump replacement at Palestine. The work on Palestine’s reservoir, also a critical need, has not yet been put out for bid.

“The guys at the hatchery have been cleaning up debris and trees so the reservoir can be inspected by engineers,” Hedrick said. “We want to make sure that when we get a contractor in here, there’s no further work that will have to be done.”

He said a previous attempt to fix the reservoir failed because the contractor “didn’t understand the scope of the work that needed to be done. We don’t want that to happen again.”

The pond-liner work at Apple Grove is expected to cost about $5 million. The price tag will cover replacement of the 5-acre reservoir’s liner plus the liners of 34 ponds scattered throughout the facility. In all, 42 acres’ worth of new liners will be installed.

The original liners, installed when the hatchery was built in the late 1990s, were supposed to last 15 to 20 years. They didn’t. Hedrick said the new liners would be replaced in phases.

“The most critical one is the reservoir’s,” he added. “Once we get the liner in and the reservoir filled to capacity, we’ll be able to put water in the other ponds as their liners are replaced and they come back on line. As construction continues, we’ll gain production capacity.”

Only then, Hedrick said, DNR officials will be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

“Right now we don’t have the security blanket we’re used to having,” he said. “After the repairs we’ll have it back.”

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