Lake Jackson area residents have some good news. Money slated for repairing the ailing Lake Jackson dam was approved by county supervisors Tuesday.
About 70 people who live around the lake community, located just west of Va. 234 in the mid-county region, met last week with Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe at the Lake Jackson Volunteer Fire Station to hear the latest plans for repairing the 85-year-old dam that was damaged in the August 2011 earthquake and has since been rendered inoperable, causing much of the lake to drain away.
Nohe said the proposed county budget for fiscal year 2014 includes $400,000 in funds to move forward with plans to shore up the dam by filling it with concrete, a repair strategy recommended by a dam consulting firm the county hired after workers discovered water rushing out of “toe drains” near the bottom of the dam last spring.
That money, coupled with a $500,000 dam safety grant from the state, will cover the estimated $870,000 in repair work that could begin as early as this fall.
The timing of the repairs means the Lake Jackson community will face another summer with unusually low water levels that will limit boat use. Residents also expressed concerns about having to cut back weeds that will inevitably grow along the dry lake bottom, as they did last summer.
Some also wanted to know if the dam gate could be closed at least temporarily so that residents could retrieve boats that became marooned on muddy shorelines when water levels dropped rapidly as a result of the county’s decision to open the dam gate last spring in order to relieve pressure on the dam.
Unfortunately, Nohe said, the dam is too unstable to allow the gate to be closed, even for a short time.
“The dam is in danger. That’s why we’re moving very quickly to fix it,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is change the dynamic that leads to a bigger and more expensive problem.”
Nohe also told the group that the county funding is not tied to any proposal to create a new tax levy for ongoing dam maintenance – an idea that was proposed by county staff as they drew up options for the dam.
Although the county has owned the Lake Jackson dam since 1963, and is responsible for its safety and maintenance, some members of the board of supervisors questioned why the county should continue to spend tax dollars on a dam for a lake that is technically open to the public but offers no public access, Nohe said.
Dove’s Landing, a county-owned nature preserve upstream from the lake could change that. Although still under development, the area is planned to include nature trails and could provide a spot for canoeing or kayaking on Lake Jackson, Nohe said.
Nohe noted that both the levy and a modest level of increased public access to Lake Jackson could have advantages and disadvantages for the community. On the plus side: a levy would provide ongoing funds to not only maintain the dam but also enhance the lake, Nohe said.
Still, he said those are issues Lake Jackson residents need to discuss and offer opinions about.
“There may be good reasons why the levy would be a good thing for this community, but maybe it’s not. … Maybe opening more access to the public would be a good thing, or maybe it isn’t,” Nohe said. “I think [those are] questions you all need to answer, not something [county supervisors] need to be driving.”
Staff writer Jill Palermo can be reached at email@example.com