Dam on Cheat River on its Way Out

By John McFerrin

There is a move afoot to remove the dam on the Cheat River which historically created the pool necessary for the operation of the Albright Power Station.  The dam was never designed for flood control and never served that purpose.  Since the power station has long since closed, the dam no longer serves a purpose and can be removed.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service describes the project this way:

The Albright Power Station Dam is a 12-foot low head dam built in 1952 on the Cheat River to feed an adjacent power plant. The plant was permanently closed in 2012 with no viable options for future reopening. The dam acts as a barrier to both aquatic species and river recreationalists, posing a significant safety hazard.  Eastern Hellbender are in the vicinity, and previously extirpated walleye as well as multiple mussel species could return to the river segment once the dam is removed and water quality improved. Additionally, two brook trout streams directly upstream and downstream of the Albright Power Station Dam will be functionally reconnected after dam removal, making currently separated populations more resilient to disturbance and climate change.   

            The effort to remove of the dam has been led by the Friends of the Cheat.  It is part of its decades long effort to transform the Cheat River from an open sewer (if you want to be dramatic about it) or a seriously impaired waterway (if you want to be clinical and bureaucratic) into a river that supports fish and other aquatic life, as well as fishing, boating, kayaking, etc.

            The effort got a big boost in 2019 when the Friends of the Cheat was awarded a $100,000 grant from the DTE Energy Foundation.  DTE Energy is a Detroit-based diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide.  Its Foundation provides support for various public service initiatives.

            The effort is also being supported through the National Fish Passage Program, administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  The National Fish Passage Program provides financial and technical assistance to partners across the country.

            The removal is not something that will happen immediately. There have been studies concerning exactly how the dam would be removed and there will have to be more review before it is time for concrete to fly.  There is also the matter of money.  The project has been awarded a one million dollar grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has applied for a grant and a grant application has been submitted to the Abandoned Mine Lands program.            

While the process may be long, all appearances are that the dam will be removed.  The Fish and Wildlife Service supports removal.  The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources supports removal.  The Preston County Commission supports removal.  Nobody has come out against it.  While it may not be tomorrow, it appears that the Friends of the Cheat is well on its way to taking another step in its decades long quest to restore the Cheat River to its former glory.