While the restored Hope Mills Dam safely protected humans in the community during the recent strikes of tropical weather, the animal kingdom didn’t come out completely unscathed.
Don Sisko, interim director of public works for the town of Hope Mills, said the eel ladder at the dam did suffer some damage.
The eel ladder was made a part of the Hope Mills dam restoration by order of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Eels are not an endangered species, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2015 that “for the species’ long-term stability, the agency recommends continuing efforts to maintain healthy habitats, monitor harvest levels and improve river passage for migrating eels.’’
This is especially true around structures like the Hope Mills dam that block the natural migration of the eels from their spawning grounds in the ocean to the inland locations where they live and feed.
The eel ladder allows then access to Hope Mills Lake.
According to Sisko, tail waters caused by the storm backed up below the dam and damaged wiring to a pump that powers something called the attractor.
The attractor creates an artificial waterfall that naturally attracts the eels to the eel ladder.
“The downstream pump (the one that was damaged) is the attractor that creates a small water flow,’’ Sisko said. “The biologists have figured out that’s what attracts the eels. That brings them to the ladder, and they carry on and get up into the lake.’’
The pump that feeds the eel ladder keeps water flowing at all times so the eels are in their natural environment. There is a material inside the ladder that allows the eels to get traction so they can migrate and move up it into the lake.
Twice a year, from March 15-June 15 and from Sept. 1-Oct. 15, the town does a count on eels that are caught in a basket at the end of the eel ladder.
Sisko said the damage to the ladder pump took place sometime during Hurricane Florence, interrupting the eel count that was scheduled to start in September.
“Once we remove them from the basket, we count them and release them a little further up the lake so they stand less a chance of getting sucked in by the pump that feeds the eel ladder itself,’’ Sisko said. The last complete eel count was conducted in the spring when 229 eels were recovered and relocated in the lake.
Since the next period for counting the eels doesn’t come until mid-March, Sisko said there is no need to rush the process of repairing the damaged pump.
Sisko said the problem will be presented to the Hope Mills Board of Commissioners at a future meeting. “It will be part of the FEMA claims and insurance,’’ he said, referring to the cost of repairs.
The total cost for the eel ladder when it was first installed was $35,000.