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Big dam problem

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Leak in private Woodlake subdivision could prove costly for taxpayers

By BEN CARLSON

The dam that keeps a 5-acre lake from swamping a house below it in Woodlake subdivision is leaking, and taxpayers could be on the hook to make it stop.

The state’s Division of Water has for years pestered county officials about the dam, but now it appears that the agency is getting serious and is threatening the county with fines up to $1,000 a day unless corrective action is taken.

Woodlake subdivision is located in the Stringtown area, just off Harrodsburg Road.

The issue came to light during last Wednesday’s meeting of the Anderson County Fiscal Court.

Highway foreman Chip Chambers said he receives a letter each year telling the county that debris and brush need to be removed from the area around the dam’s spillover pipe.

This year’s letter was more serious.

“I got a letter saying it was going to be classified as high risk,” Chambers told the fiscal court. “It’s been leaking since I’ve been here.”

The dam is 29 feet high and 360 feet long. According to a Dec. 8 inspection conducted by the state’s Division of Water, it has “erosion from wave action, cracks and sloughs” on the upstream slope of the dam.

Chambers said he’s fairly sure he knows where it’s leaking because an area just past the dam’s slope is always wet, even during the driest times of the year.

The county’s first step will be to have an engineering firm perform a breach analysis study to ensure that residences below the dam would not be impacted due to dam failure.

That study will cost taxpayers as much as $6,000, Chambers said.

“We’re spending a lot of money for a study,” said Magistrate John Wayne Conway. “There’s no telling what it will cost to fix the leak. The Division of Water seems pretty serious this time.”

“That’s right,” Chambers said. “They’re not playing.”

Some magistrates questioned whether the county is responsible for the dam.

“I’d like to verify that we own the dam,” said Magistrate David Ruggles. “If it’s a private lake, how can we own the dam? You don’t own the lake without the dam, so how do you not own the dam?”

Chambers said because the county owns the road over the dam, he’s convinced that the county also owns the dam.

Judge-Executive Steve Cornish said County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis will research ownership, but is also fairly sure the county owns the dam, he said.

Magistrate Forrest Dale Stevens hinted that the cheapest thing the county could do to solve the problem is drain the lake.

Ruggles agreed.

“We’d have to drain it to fix it anyway,” he said.

Cornish said later that draining the lake isn’t likely going to be an option.

“I don’t see how unless there was a serious threat of a breach in the dam,” he said. “The state government owns the water, and I don’t think the Division of Water would let us do that.”

Chambers said the lake isn’t used much for recreational purposes, although it does contain fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Cornish added that he’s not overly concerned right now about being fined $1,000 a day. He said the way he interprets the letter is that the fine was threatened if the county did not clear debris from the spillover pipe, which Chambers said has been done.

During their meeting last Wednesday, magistrates voted to table awarding the breach analysis study until the county attorney has determined if the county owns the dam.

“We’re just going to have to take this one step at a time,” Cornish said. “I don’t know what the end result will be. If they come back and say the structure’s integrity is compromised and a threat to the residence downstream, we’ll do what we have to do.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.