Barred access to river draws ire of firefighters, boaters

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Signs posted by the state Fish and Boat Commission warn visitors that the Muncy access area to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River is closed.

MUNCY — The former Muncy access area to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, off of Railroad Street, remains closed to boaters — and there are no plans to reopen it.

That’s the official word from the state Fish and Boat Commission, which closed the site in July 2016 after a woman attempted to wade to the river, got stuck in sediment and had to be rescued by other paddlers.

“As the water level decreases, canoe and kayak users are forced to wade through the sediment — or deep mud — and over the sandbar to access the river. The sediment can become several feet deep, posing a threat to individuals who may find their feet stuck,” the commission said in a statement released at the time of the closure.

A barricade placed at the launch has since been replaced with a steel cable with a lock on each end.

Muncy and Clinton Township Volunteer Fire companies both have used the access area to draw water from the river for fighting fires and as an entry for the river rescue team.

Each fire company was issued a key for the lock in December 2017, said Eric Levis, communication director for the commission.

“This gives both of us access while maintaining our own set of locks/security,” Levis said.

However, Clinton Township has not received its key, according to Fire Chief Todd Winder.

In December, a fire at an Amish farm at Elimsport left a family homeless. According to Winder, his tanker could not access the river at the boat launch and had to go elsewhere to get water to fight the fire, which resulted in a delay because the firefighters ran short of water.

Although there is a boat launch at the river at Montgomery, the fire trucks cannot cross the bridge to access it because of a 4-ton weight limit, Winder said.

Recreational users of the river also are upset with the continued closure and have scheduled a meeting with state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, to try to find a solution.

The public meeting about the launch’s closure will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 1 at Trout Pond Park, 1935 Route 405.

One of the main problems with using the launch is not so much the access but the lack of water, said Muncy Fire Chief Jimmy Michael.

Because of the location of the sandbar, the flow of water is diverted away from the launch area. In the summer, when the water level is lower, the fire department has a difficult time getting water. Recreational users also have to wade out to launch their boats or kayaks, which causes the unsafe conditions cited by the state Fish and Boat Commission in its decision to close the launch.

A proposed plan to relocate the access area will remain on hold until funding is secured for the project, Levis said recently.

The sandbar causing the problem is located where Muncy Creek enters the river. Over time, silt from the runoff of farm fields is carried by the creek to the site, creating a muddy sandbar, officials said.

The sandbar has been dredged in the past, Winder said, to clear the area so the river can be accessed, but officials say that dredging is no longer possible.

“Blame it on the Chesapeake Bay Commission,” Winder said. “We can’t clean up the river. It’s unelected bureaucracy.”

Michael said the last time the river was dredged near the launch, the materials were dumped upstream from the site, which he feels may have contributed to the situation.

He said he is planning to attend the meeting with Everett to see what can be done about the situation.

A rumor has been circulating that the change in siltation is the result of a new bridge that was built on Route 405. Some contend it has changed the flooding pattern along Muncy Creek, resulting in an increase in the amount of silt being carried to the river.

However, officials from the state Department of Transportation said they are unaware of any problem associated with the bridge.

In addition, Megan Lehman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said the agency has not heard of any bridge construction-related issues at the site nor has it received any applications or requests for pre-application meetings regarding the dredging of the river at the boat launch. She also said that Chesapeake Bay-related regulations and those for the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System do not apply to the site.