County looks at dam safety

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

How many dams are in Henry County?

Perhaps more than you think. And if one were to break, the damage to life and property could be far greater than most people expect.

County officials are wrapping up a study on what would be needed to keep up the dams and how to pay for it. A presentation at last week’s Board of Commissioners meeting centered around a proposed special tax district to handle those costs.

Eleven dams in the county are classified as Category 1, meaning damage to one of them would affect “life and public safety” with a collapse being potentially catastrophic. A county official said that 46 dams are in Category 2, but the Category 1 structures are what need to be dealt with right now.

The proposed ordinance which will be up for a vote at the July 18 regular Board of Commissioners meeting will address Category 1 dams only. If it works, other dams could be addressed in the future using the same method.

A special tax district would consist mainly of people living in areas directly affected by the dam, and many of them are in favor of such a move. A number of Lake Dow residents addressed the board and asked for passage of the ordinance, saying that it would allow them to pay for upkeep over a long period of time rather than waiting until something bad happens and the cost is immediate and astronomical.

“This is a chance to let us help ourselves,” as one resident put it.

While the idea is to let affected homeowners foot the bill, Commissioner Bruce Holmes speculated about the possibility of another economic downturn that could make property values plummet and ultimately put all taxpayers on the hook for these costs.

Commissioner Blake Prince pointed out that if damage from a dam that is taken out requires construction of a new bridge or some similar project, the county would definitely pay for that and the cost would be in the millions.

“Knocking down a dam would bring a 100-year flood,” said Prince. “The impact downstream would be substantial. A lot of homeowners could see their insurance rates triple if something isn’t done.”

Officials noted that upstream development has caused up to 10 times as much water to pass through after a storm as was the case years ago.

The item is on the July 18 agenda because the first regular meeting of the month for the commissioners has been cancelled.