June 17, 2008

County Will Upgrade Hazardous Eads Dam — Proactive Project Seeks to Head Off Flood Threat

By Alex Doniach

Shelby County Commissioners approved an upgrade to a flood- control dam near Eads that was recently classified as a "high hazard" by the state.

The project will cost about $440,000 and the federal government will pay for most of it, but the county will be responsible for 35 percent of construction costs, or about $110,000. Some of that amount can be paid with in-kind services.

The 21-acre Mary's Creek Dam, located about a mile south of the intersection of Collierville-Arlington and Macon near Eads, was recently designated "hazardous" by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Safe Dams Division after a subdivision with 29 homes was built downstream.

This means that if the dam were to overflow or burst, water from the dam could flood the area and could lead to a "potential loss of life," said John Charles Wilson, chairman of the Shelby County Conservation District. He added that the county's dams were built 50 years ago and were only designed with a 50-year lifespan.

"If they broke, we could potentially be sued by the homeowners that are downstream ... or we can take the federal funds that are out there now to help counties like Shelby to bring them up to 2008 standards and earthquake standards," Wilson said, pointing out that failed dams in Iowa and Illinois most recently led to severe flooding.

Like dams in those states, Shelby's dams are earthen and contain a large concrete pipe designed to safely release water, said Andy Neal, district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Neal inspects the county's six dams annually.

Neal said the funds will be used to bring the dam up to today's standards by, for example, raising it about 2 feet and widening the emergency spillway.

The project is expected to take a year to complete.

Although the project was approved in an 11-0 vote Monday, some commissioners wanted to defer approval so they could learn more about the status of the county's other dams. This is the first of such rehabilitation projects to come before the seven new commissioners who were sworn into office in 2006. Commissioner Steve Mulroy was absent for the vote and Mike Ritz passed.

Although there are six dams the county is responsible for maintaining, there are 83 bodies of water on public and private property that are classified as dams, including Patriot Lake at Shelby Farms.

Ritz said he wanted more information before voting because approving the improvement could lead to many more down the road.

But Commissioner Sidney Chism said the situation brought back memories of Hurricane Katrina and the neglected levees that broke in New Orleans.

"We got 29 homes," he said, "and we don't know how many potential lives we're talking about."

- Alex Doniach: 529-5231

Originally published by Alex Doniach [email protected] .

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