jeff9Infrequent but devastating storms can cause expensive infrastructure damage to communities like ours. Last month, 13 of the 17 earthen dams that are known to have failed during Hurricane Matthew are in the Cape Fear River Basin. Some of the same dams were severely damaged or destroyed 27 years ago during a storm that dumped eight inches of rain on Fayetteville one week before Hurricane Hugo struck South Carolina. This year, we weren’t so lucky. Coincidentally, Hurricane Matthew hit Fayetteville one week after another torrential rainfall. Nearly 30 inches inundated Greater Fayetteville in a ten-day period. 

Inspectors from the state’s Dam Safety Program are still collecting data on the failures and near-failures. The Federal Emergency Management Agency notes in its overview of dam ownership in the United States that property owners on popular residential lakes are responsible for the safety and liability of their dams and for financing their upkeep and repairs. The state has been working with the owners of two dams on Keith Lake in Rayconda off Raeford Road. 

Residents have been trying to correct problems since at least 2004, said Brad Cole, Chief of Regional Operations for Dam Safety. The upper dam, which carries Siple Avenue, separates the two sections of Keith Lake. The street is maintained by the city, but the dam belongs to the homeowners’ association. When it partially caved in, the city rushed to shore it up to restore vehicular traffic on Siple Avenue ... the only access to the neighborhood of about 230 homes. 

Homeowners’ Association President Freddy Rivera said earlier this year that the HOA hired a contractor to make repairs to the dam’s spillway to better regulate the flow of water from the 2.5-acre lake to the larger 7-acre lake. The group hoped the City of Fayetteville would help with the costly repairs needed on the dam itself. That’s where the ownership issue comes into play, as it does for the Aarran Lakes Dam on Greenock Drive. It too is privately owned. 

Many streets, bridges and utility systems owned by the City of Fayetteville cross privately-owned dams. A few, like the dam beneath Mirror Lake Drive in Van Story Hills and the lower dam on McFadyen Drive in Devonwood, are maintained by the city, said spokesman Kevin Arata. 

So, what happens after the fact, when it comes time to repair or rebuild earthen dams? Emergency Action Plans are required as a condition of impoundment for all new high hazard potential dams in North Carolina. The EAPs must be approved by engineers in the Dam Safety Program. They are not required under state law for dams that already exist. But what if an existing high hazard dam is destroyed?  Is an emergency action plan required before the dam cane be rebuilt and the lake impounded? Failure of a dam can be a personal as well as expensive and legal calamity. Laws pertaining to North Carolina Dam Safety are found in G.S.143-215-23. 

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