Rayconda residents have to pay to fix their dam, and many of them are not happy about it. That’s because across town, the City is paying $1.9 million to fix  another dam.

Both dams breached, along with several others in Fayetteville, when last October Hurricane Matthew hurled 18 inches of rain onto Fayetteville in a short time span.

The dam in question is under a portion of Siple Avenue, which takes you into the heart of Rayconda. It became a public road when the City annexed the neighborhood in 2004. It was — until recently — the only way in and out of the subdivision. When the dam breached, the road became too dangerous for vehicles to cross. For a while, people living on the far side of the dam had to walk in and out of their neighborhood.

Jump ahead nine months and we’re back in the midst of hurricane season. The City in July held a series of meetings with people who live around breached dams. Among them: VanStory Hills, Arran Lake, Devonwood, and Rayconda neighborhoods.

VanStory Hills’s Mirror Lake Drive washed out during the storm. And the dam over which Mirror Lake Drive runs also breached. But a decision by the City back in 2002 to maintain the dam is the difference between the City paying full amount for repair and the City fronting the money  for repair.

Here’s how it works. The Federal Emergency Management Administration is the federal paymaster for local disaster recovery projects. It decides what and who is eligible for their money.

In the case of breached dams, FEMA only reimburses the City for City-maintained dams. And there have to be maintenance records as proof. The City rescued Mirror Lake Dam in 2002 when the state threatened to breach the structure. Apparently it did not measure up to state dam  standards.

City maintenance puts it in a different category … a category that lets the City pay $1.9 million to repair and improve the dam under Mirror Lake Drive.

It doesn’t matter that both dams have a public road over it. In fact, the Rayconda dam has water and sewer lines going through the dam. The City and FEMA still considered it privately-owned. Out of 55 dams in Fayetteville, the City maintains six, the Fayetteville Public Works Commission maintains four, and the remaining 45 dams are considered private property.

And there’s no public money to fix private dams, City Manager Doug Hewett told Rayconda and Arran Lakes residents attending the meetings. That’s according to City Council policy and state law.

But City Council did come up with a way to pay for dam repairs. It’s the special assessment. The City pays for upfront costs of repairing the dam and then charges lake area property owners a monthly fee. Taxpayers can pay back the upfront money over a 10-year period at maybe an 8 percent interest rate.

They figure out who pays by figuring out who benefits from having a lake. Just because you live near a lake doesn’t necessarily mean you have a propertyenhancing view or that water from your property drains into the lake.

And the dam the City rebuilds won’t create what Hewett referred to as an amenity lake. Instead, it will be a functional stormwater holding facility (their words) where the City can raise or lower the water level depending on the weather.

Rayconda’s and Arran Lake’s homeowner’s associations have until the end of August to let the City know if their neighborhoods are interested in the deal.

After that, the City decides who benefits from having a lake in their neighborhood. Those who benefit fill out another petition. To participate in the special assessment requires a super majority or 60 percent of the benefitting property owners agreeing to the deal.

It will keep the property values up of those homes now adjoining a drained lake, but who is going to buy a house with a 10-year, 8 percent lien on the property?

Rev. Richard Wagner, a Rayconda resident, noted, “Before annexation, Rayconda had a deal with the state and county to repair the dam. When the City annexed us, that all went away, and we’ve been struggling for years to get it fixed.”

In the meantime, until the dam is fixed, the neighborhood will have a swamp.

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