Muncy locals, state officials debate boat launch closure and options

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Harley Fry, II, of Muncy, asks a question during a meeting with the state Fish and Boat Commission on the closing of the Muncy boat launch to the Susquehanna River at Trout Pond Park Thursday.

HUGHESVILLE — Emotions were high as a crowd of 130 people from the Muncy area listened to representatives of the state’s Fish and Boat Commission who detailed reasons why the Muncy boat launch would not reopen at its present location, at least not for now.

The meeting, which was organized by Mike Gray, Chad Gray and Mike Ott, who started a Facebook group to save the boat launch, was moderated by State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy.

The launch, which is located along the Susquehanna River at the mouth of Muncy Creek, has been closed since 2016 due to a sandbar that has formed near the site, creating a hazard.

When asked why the sandbar couldn’t be dredged as it has been in the past, Paul Urbanik, chief engineer with the Fish and Boat Commission, told the boating and fishing enthusiasts that comprised the crowd that one of the key issues is the cost involved.

According to Urbanik, the job of removing the sediment that cost just over $2,000 about 10 years ago, would cost from $150,000 to $200,000 today.

“There are some major downfalls,” Urbanik said. “This is why we don’t want to pursue that alternative. Dredging requires extensive DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) and Army Corps permits. This is a federally navigable waterway, so we have to get the Army Corps’ approval. Those permits take about a year to acquire.

“Also, there is no guarantee of when this dredging will re-silt back in. We can take this next year and in a month or two weeks a big storm could roll in and fill that back in basically nullifying everything we just accomplished.”

He added, the expense of dredging could easily cover the cost of a new access area.

Urbanik noted that shortly after the current access site was closed, the Fish and Boat Commission began actively working to find a new site.

“After we do find a site, and after the funding is allocated for this project, we can then start the process of acquiring property and designing the project,” he said.

This part of the project would take about a year, with construction running from six months to a year, he said.

According to Urbanik, the cost of the entire project could be $525,000, depending on the amount of money needed to purchase the property.

“This is the part that stinks,” he said. “Unfortunately, until then the site will have to remain closed.”

Urbanick encouraged the crowd to help in the process.

“One of the biggest ways you can help is get organized,” he said. “We’ve had other projects of greater magnitude that the locals have taken ownership of and they’ve created organizations and they were able to lobby their state representatives. They got funding and donations and they made these projects happen. Everything you’re trying to accomplish is attainable.”

During the question and answer session that followed the presentation by the commission’s representatives, Everett revealed that there is a possible site that has been found for a new access. The site is located on the same side of the river on the other side of the bridge and the owner of the property would consider selling it at a reasonable cost.

One way to fund a new access site, according to John Arway, executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission, who also was at the meeting, is funding from the General Assembly coupled with money raised from private financing or grants.

The commission currently is working with the state Senate to pass a bill, which would allow the commission to set their own fees, Arway said.

“That will allow us to do projects like the Muncy boat launch,” he said.

Even though the launch will remain closed due to the hazard presented by the sandbar, several people in the audience questioned why the access couldn’t remain open with the caution that anyone using it would do so at their own risk.

Everett said he would investigate that possibility, as well as the option of funding through the General Assembly.

One man said he had been fined for walking his dog in the area of the launch and that his father had gone down to the river to check how fast the water was rising during the recent thaw and he too was fined.

According to Mike Gray, one of the organizers, when they closed the launch, they “took a part of Muncy. It’s a scenic place.”