In the early years of the Kennedy administration, the rapid growth of Washington DC and surrounding areas led federal legislators to plan for a water crisis. Their answer was proposing a series of dams throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia, including one 97-ft tall one on Middle River just southwest of New Hope that would flood almost the entire area bounded by New Hope, Fort Defiance, Verona and Barren Ridge with a 6,150-acre reservoir.

The scope of the proposed Verona Dam Lake was mind-boggling: after filling, the community of Laurel Hill would be an isolated peninsula, surrounded on almost all sides by 143,000 acre-ft of water 100-ft deep in places. Huge bridges would be needed on Routes 612, 608, 254 and I-81.

Advocates of the Verona Dam cited numerous advantages: the enormous lake would be surrounded by 1,700 acres of recreation areas and 2,260 acres of wildlife sanctuaries. The area could become a hub of aquatic sports, and farmland turned into lakefront property would skyrocket in value. The lake would also, they argued, serve the water needs of Washington and central Shenandoah Valley for decades.

Opponents of the project countered that the dam was not needed, too much valuable farmland as well as historic sites would be flooded and that a proposed yearly draw-down would stifle recreation, produce ugly mud flats and create masses of mosquitoes. Many were also opposed to such extensive federal control over so much local land.

In 1970 this project and several like it were deleted from the federal $500 million Omnibus Rivers and Harbors bill, but the 92nd congress in 1971 resurrected both the Verona Dam and the Six Bridges Dam in Pennsylvania.

The project dragged in fits and starts until its discussion reached a head in April, 1972. At a public forum at Kate Collins Jr. High School, Rep. J. Kenneth Robinson said that of 923 questionnaires returned, 471 were opposed to the project while 440 were in favor, showing how evenly split the community was over the proposal. At that forum Army Corps spokesman William Trieschman spoke in favor of the project, adding that the total cost of the project was about $34 million in federal money, with localities chipping in the cost of constructing and maintaining any recreational areas.

Russell…