More details about McIver Lake dam revealed

By Heather Michon

More details about a potential dam breach near Bremo came to light during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night (April 6).

County Administrator Eric Dahl said McIver Lake was estimated to contain 60 million gallons of water – enough to put Bremo Road and the CXR railroad tracks under 3.5 feet of water had the earthen dam failed.

Dahl’s timeline of events also highlighted the chance nature of the discovery of the extensive erosion that threatened the 53-year-old earthen dam. 

The property owners, who live outside the area, had sent in an engineer to look at removing the dam. Seeing the critical condition of the structure, the engineer called in the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the state agency in charge of dams and impoundments. DCR officials were so concerned that they called the state’s emergency management agency, which alerted the county at about 2 p.m. on Monday, March 21.    

County officials had a difficult time even reaching the isolated property. A logging road that led to the lake was choked with fallen trees and “made it a little bit of a maze to get back in there,” said Dahl. It had to be partially cleared to allow the county to bring in pumps and begin lowering the water level. 

Another problem were some “energetic beavers” whose own dams had likely been partially to blame for the lake refilling after years of being mostly empty. He said the county had removed one beaver dam, only to find the creatures hard at work trying to rebuild it the next day.

Dewatering took several days, with lake levels falling about a foot per day. Water was discharged into Holman Creek at a steady rate to prevent any flooding, and the dam was notched to prevent it from refilling until it can be completely dismantled.

A flood map produced by the state showed that no homes were in danger of flooding. There was also no risk to the coal ash ponds at the Bremo Power Station. Ash in the West Ash Pond had already been removed and barriers around the pond bed would have prevented inundation.

However, a dam failure would have put motorists traveling on Bremo Road at risk and could have caused erosion of the road and the nearby train tracks. 

The state will be picking up the tab for the incident, and Dalh said there was a good chance the property owner will probably face a lien or fines from the state. 

Supervisors voted unanimously to retroactively approve contracts for excavation and dewatering and other actions taken by county staff during the emergency.

Fork Union Commerce Park

With the Planning Commission soon voting on rezoning for three county-owned parcels within the newly-planned Fork Union Commerce Park, Dahl asked the supervisors if they wanted to include a proffer letter that would ask the commissioners to exclude certain types of businesses from the park when the parcels are later offered for sale or lease.

County staff recommended excluding self-storage facilities, car washes, solid waste collection, “amusements,” mobile home manufactures, and outdoor shooting ranges.  

Supervisors accepted the recommendations and approved the proffer letter by a vote of 5-0.

Comp plan

Douglas Miles gave a presentation on the evolving Comprehensive Plan, a document that will guide development within the county over the coming years. 

Work on the plan is still in the early stages but will pick up this spring with open houses and opportunities for public comment. The current schedule sees a draft of the document available for board approval in the last quarter of this year. 

Supervisor Chris Fairchild said he had been speaking with some members of the citizens’ advisory committees assigned in a previous board meeting who were still unclear about their role in the process. 

“I just feel like there is still a lot of gray area – understanding it’s a marathon not a sprint – about what’s happening when,” he commented.

He questioned why there seemed to be so little clarity on their functions.

Miles said each appointee had been sent a summary letter outlining  the process and their roles in it. He said if Fairchild was still hearing that after the next meeting on April 14, “that would indicate a problem,” but added “I think by then, we’ll be on track.” 

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