HARRISBURG - A proposal to generate $1 million annually from state fees on dams to help pay for safety inspections is close to implementation after nearly three years of consideration.

The purpose of the proposal is to offset costs of monitoring and inspecting dams by the Department of Environmental Protection and reduce the program's reliance on the taxpayer-supported General Fund by one-third. About $3 million is spent annually on the dam safety program.

"This (fee proposal) will ensure that dams are maintained as designed and will help protect the public safety of the communities downstream and assist the public who depend on dams for water supply, flood control and recreation," said a DEP statement. The proposed regulation won final approval last month from the rule-making Environmental Quality Board and goes to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the state attorney general's office for review.

It could go into effect as early as this winter, said DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman.

The current fees date to 1991.

The proposal establishes an annual registration fee in the amount of either $1,500 or $800 depending upon the dam category for private owners of some 646 dams that would create significant economic or public safety concerns if they were breached.

In addition, permit application fees for projects to build new dams or modify existing ones would be increased on a sliding scale based on the hazard potential category of the dam. For example, permit fees to modify dams listed in the most hazardous category would increase from $3,000 to $18,500.

Contact the writer: rswift@timesshamrock.com