The dam removal and disposal contract was awarded to Adams Enterprises of Factoryville, Wyoming County, US. Construction is expected to start 24 December and is anticipated to finish by 4 March 2006.

The 79m-wide, 7.6m high dam had attracted criticism for creating dangerous currents that can trap swimmers and boaters, and for producing environmental problems by blocking the passage of American shad and other native migratory species, as well as changing the natural river ecology.

With ongoing or planned fish passage projects downstream, removal of the New Jersey Zinc Co. dam will open 60km of spawning and rearing habitat for migratory fish and provide access for all life stages of resident fish in the Lehigh river.

The cost of the removal project will be paid by DEP and reimbursed through grants obtained by American Rivers, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Department of Agriculture.

The New Jersey Zinc Co. dam was built in the early 1900s to supply water to the now-defunct company’s zinc smelting operation. New Jersey Zinc abandoned the dam when it ceased operations more than two decades ago, and the structure became the responsibility of the state.

Pennsylvania’s Governor Edward G. Rendell launched a major dam safety initiative in June 2004 and called on the federal government for support, asking US President George W Bush to fund a national Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act that would provide grants and loans to fix unsafe dams, finance an updated inventory of dams across the country and support dam safety emergency preparedness and anti-terrorist efforts to enhance homeland security.

Last year, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials named Governor Rendell the recipient of its annual National Award of Merit, the organisation’s highest award for individuals who have advanced the dam safety cause in the US.