Polk discusses $1.8-$3.5 million in dam repairs with contract dismissal

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2015

After the Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) pulled out of a proposed water contract with Polk County, commissioners are now discussing what repairs to the dam are needed and what it could cost.

The county is looking at anywhere between $1.8 million and $3.5 million to make necessary repairs to the dam over the next several years.

Commissioners met Oct. 19 and heard from county manager Marche Pittman who reviewed a letter received recently from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which said the county’s current schedule of repairs to the dam is sufficient.

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Pittman said the county has had some citizen concern about its maintenance progress on the Lake Adger Dam.

“We were holding off on any major maintenance until we knew the end result of the ICWD agreement,” Pittman said. “Since we now know that it isn’t going to work out, I have asked Dave Odom (county engineer) to come to the next meeting and explain for the board what the next dam maintenance steps are. Also, I asked Dave Odom to reach out to DENR about our progress so far on maintaining the dam.”

DENR’s assistant dam safety engineer Bill Denton sent the county an email in response that said, “If we had identified deficiencies that caused us to be concerned about the safety of the dam, our Asheville Regional Office would have issued a Notice of Deficiency to the owner or initiated other enforcement under the dam safety law.”

Denton goes on to say it should be noted that the state’s inspection is limited to observations made of all visible and accessible portions of the dam at the time of the inspection and it is his understanding that some areas are sometimes inaccessible and not observed by DENR’s staff.

Denton said he reviewed the county’s AECOM inspection report from Jan. 9, 2014, which includes needed repairs to the dam and he is in agreement with the recommendations presented.

“Of note was the statement in the first paragraph of the Conclusions and Recommendations that ‘there are no observed conditions which are immediate concerns to the safety of the project,’” said Denton.

Denton said AECOM’s investigation into the Turner Shoals Dam was much more thorough than DENR can perform and the dam safety program must rely on such reports prepared by qualified professional engineers retained by dam owners.

“Although a schedule was recommended in the report, longer time frames to address the identified issues could also be considered reasonable given the complexity and likely expense of the necessary modifications/repairs,” said Denton.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson asked Pittman what his “big picture” is with the state’s letter.

Pittman responded that the county has a big bill coming and is going to have to figure out what the county is going to do to pay the bill.

Commissioner Keith Holbert asked what the initial recommendations were from Black & Veatch engineers as far as what the county should set aside annually for dam repairs. Holbert was referencing a study done by Black & Veatch for the county in 2009.

Commissioner chair Tom Pack answered that the recommendation was for Polk to set aside between $50,000-$200,000 a year for repairs to the dam, but said Pittman could look that figure up.

“You made the comment we’re getting ready to spend some money,” Pack said to Pittman. “What are we looking at?”

Pittman said the county is looking at spending between $1.8-$3.5 million to make necessary repairs to the dam.

Gasperson asked if the county can finance those repairs if it needs. Pittman answered that the county can borrow money to fund dam repairs.

“As always, it remains the dam owner’s responsibility, in this case Polk County’s responsibility, to maintain and operate its dam in a manner that protects that downstream public,” states Denton’s letter to the county. “As it states in NCGS 143-215.35, nothing in the Dam Safety Law ‘shall relieve an owner or operator of a dam from the legal duties, obligations and liabilities arising from such ownership or operation.’ As such, we encourage the county to follow through on the actions recommended in the report by AECOM in a timely fashion and take any and all other steps necessary to protect the downstream public.”

Polk County began saving money annually in 2010 to repair the Turner Shoals dam and to date has completed some improvements. The county currently has $721,710 saved to make repairs.

Polk County and ICWD were in negotiations over the last year to share water resources and for ICWD to operate Polk’s water system as well as make repairs to the dam in exchange for access to Lake Adger water for the next 75 years, the term of the proposed contract. After hiring Black & Veatch to give an expert opinion on the proposed contract, ICWD pulled out of the contract. Black & Veatch said amongst other opinions in its report to ICWD that the contract favored Polk County and advised ICWD not to invest that much money into a dam that it would never own.

Commissioners were scheduled to meet on Monday, Nov. 2, but that meeting has been cancelled. The next county meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m.