Lake Adger resident raises concerns over money spent on dam studies

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, April 13, 2017

LAKE ADGER – Lake Adger resident Sky Conard brought concerns to the Polk County Board of Commissioners last week regarding money spent on studies on the Turner Shoals Dam at Lake Adger.

Conard spoke during citizen comments of the county’s April 3 meeting saying that the county has wasted $17,000 on dam studies. 

Conard said at the last meeting, county engineer Dave Odom said that the N.C. Department of Natural Resources (DENR) required a change in figures being used in the ongoing comprehensive stability evaluation of the Turner Shoals Dam, saying DENR requires the county to go back and use the safe standard of ¾ probable maximum flood (PMF) conditions.

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“What (the) public did not hear,” Conard said, “ was this DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) intervention would not have been necessary if engineers (Odom and AECOM) hadn’t reduced these PMF numbers down in the first place, all the way down to ½, back in July 2016. What the public was not reminded of was that we already paid (an) extra $17,000 to AECOM, back in 2016, for that bad idea (reducing PMF to unsafe numbers), that just got tossed out today.”

Conard said the wasted $17,000 could have been prevented. She asked why the county is not getting clear, prior approvals in writing from DEQ and dam safety officials for any big changes from the normal.

“Prior approvals for any dam safety activities is the correct procedure and being that the state just rejected county reduction of PMF to unsafe levels, prior approval for this action must not have happened,” Conard said.

Conard also asked why the county is not following the professional recommendation that AECOM engineers came up with in the first place in the 2014 Turner Shoals Dam Safety Inspection report. She said recommendation number 11 spoke to using ¾ PMF to address dam safety modifications.

“So why did (the) county approve to reduce the number to ½ PMF and pay AECOM additional money to do so?” Conard asked.

Conard said in the same 2014 inspection report, which cost $32,000, it clearly states that as a high-hazard dam, Turner Shoals requires a minimum spillway capacity of ¾ PMF.

She said when the county fails to act on the dam safety studies the county pays for, they become outdated and irrelevant and we just have to pay for them again. Like in 2009, Conard said, Polk taxpayers paid Black & Veatch engineers $9,132 for a probable maximal flood evaluation, then again in 2012, $18,8000 to AECOM for a probable maximal flood evaluation and now again in the ongoing $150,000 AECOM comprehensive stability evaluation. 

Conard also said the next unaddressed concern is the recommendation to complete a bathymetry survey of sediment forces pressing up against the dam before the design for safe reconstruction occurs.

“How is this going to be handled?” Conard asked.

Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said this week because the dam is being paid for by the taxpayers, the county is looking for ways to reduce any costs.

“Polk County is taking the upgrade and repair of the Turner Shoals Dam very seriously,” said Pittman. “As we heard at a prior commissioners’ meeting from our county engineer Dave Odom, the state of N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is very happy with the progress we have made so far and our schedule for continued work.

“Because the facility is being maintained and paid for by the taxpayers, we are constantly looking for ways to less the tax burden. The additional test that was completed (had it produced a favorable result) could have saved the county several hundred thousand dollars. We appreciate citizen comments on ongoing projects and encourage them to reach out to us with concerns.”

Commissioners discussed last month how to pay for an estimated more than $2 million worth of dam repairs needed over the next few years. The repairs include a concrete overlay, the installation of anchors to improve the stability of the bulkhead structures and the seismic retrofit of the arch spillway.

Polk County purchased Lake Adger and the dam several years ago for $1.6 million as a future water source for the county. Polk County recently contracted for an appraisal of the lake, estimated to be worth $5.1 million, and has discussed selling the reservoir but has had no interest.

Commissioners did not address Conard’s concerns during last week’s meeting, but commissioner Shane Bradley thanked Conard for her comments.

“Every time she talks she proves more and more why Polk County should not own Lake Adger,” Bradley said.