At least nine dams in Washington County have had their state classification status changed to high hazard, which means if the structure fails, there could be serious damage to residences and structures as well as loss of life.
David Hoar, president of both the county plan commission and county council says the earthen structures function well, but the state has changed standards regarding classification. Some medium-hazard dams are now high hazard not only because of their physical design but because of residence and buildings that have been built in the floodway areas.
Tom Scifres, attorney for the plan commission and county added the dams were in compliance when they were built, but the state changed the definition of what is high risk.
Hoar says seven structures in Delaney Creek Conservancy District and two in Twin Rush Conservancy District are now classified as high-hazard. Hoar says the state wants the districts to make improvements to the dams, but the districts don’t have the money to do that. He added the county plan commission has been asked to establish regulations that would limit development in areas subject to flooding if a dam should fail.
Drew Wright is the attorney for Delaney Creek. The district includes the lake at Delaney Park, which was constructed for drainage and flood control purposes. He says the problem is that the state wants the conservancy district to hire an engineer every two years to inspect the dam and complete a report which is filed with the state.
He says the Department of Natural Resources wants dam owners or operators to upgrade the dam beyond the specification that were required when they were built adding that would be a huge expense.
Ruth Hackman, Washington County’s district conservationist, said the new regulations have been in place for some time but the state is just now enforcing them. And if districts don’t comply, Hackman says the state has the power to level fines.
Washington County is not alone, it’s a problem faced by other districts in counties across the state. Hackman explained that when the dams were built in the 1960s, there was federal money to help cover costs but there is no longer federal money to help with upgrades. She said in some cases, it might be cheaper for a district to acquire the residences and businesses sitting in the flood way through eminent domain.
Hackman says the Natural Resource Conservation Service is conducting surveys to determine “breach routes,” where the water would go in the event a dam was breached. Technicians survey the dam and the area downstream of the dam, identifying homes and businesses in the floodway and where the water would go in the event of a breach, plotting it all on a map. She says that has been done on three structures and there are still six more do. Hackman adding that the surveys are done at no cost to the conservancy