Work is under way on the first phase of a project to restore Sunset Lake, which drained after heavy rains in August 2011 swelled the body of water and caused its dam to give way.

Crews from the Salem County firm of C & H Disposal Services are removing battered and downed trees and other debris from the raceway that links the lake with the Cohansey River.

"There's been a lot of effort to date behind the scenes working with (federal and state) officials to get to this point," Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly said. "We are pleased to be moving beyond the pre-development phase to the actual physical work of restoring the raceway, which is such an important part of the character of our park."

Sunset Lake is located on the border of Bridgeton and Upper Deerfield Township. The lake is a focal point of Bridgeton's extensive City Park, and its loss was a blow to the city's recreational activities.

Bridgeton officials said the $149,000 raceway project means a lot more to the city than just recreation. The raceway, which is a sort of drainage system, is an important part of the city's history, they said.

The raceway was built by a father and son team in 1811. The raceway has been a feature in City Park since the Cumberland Nail Iron Works began operations in 1815.

"In some ways, you don't always appreciate what you have until it is gone," Kelly said. "We are fortunate to be able to restore the raceway, and the clearance work … is a solid first step."

Clearing and repairing the raceway is also a "necessary first step for everything that comes after" in relation to restoring Sunset Lake, Bridgeton Business Administrator Dale Goodreau said.

Bridgeton City Council also advertised for bids related to construction of a combination dam and spillway where the raceway and Sunset Lake meet. That system will provide for better control of Sunset Lake's water level.

The cost of that project is estimated at between $3 million and $4 million. Bridgeton's insurance carrier will pay $1.5 million toward the project, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency paying 75 percent of the remaining cost and Bridgeton picking up the rest of the tab.

FEMA is paying 75 percent of the cost of the raceway project and Bridgeton is paying the rest.

Sunset Lake should begin to fill slowly once all the work is completed early next year, Bridgeton officials said.

Contact Thomas Barlas:

609-226-9197