Town Council continues to move forward with Engineering & Safety Measures for Lake Lure Dam

Lake Lure Town Council continues to move forward with  implementation of a comprehensive Operations, Maintenance & Inspection Plan for the Lake Lure Hydroelectric Dam.

Commissioners received a final draft of the plan during the July Town Council Meeting, but held off approving it for release to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Dam Safety Office until they could review it along with the Utilities Advisory Board and Interim Town Manager, Shannon Baldwin.

Following a current review of the document, NCDEQ's Dam Safety Office will receive a copy as part of the town's overall request that they review the entire Dam Study produced by Dr. B. Dan Marks earlier in 2018.

Dr. Marks is a leading dam safety expert who completed a lengthy two-phase study concerning the dam's overall condition, and who recommended a comprehensive list of dam repairs.

During Dr. Marks’ inspections earlier this year, it was discovered that an Operations, Maintenance & Inspection Plan had never been completed.

One of Dr. Marks’ first recommendations toward dam safety and remediation was that the Town needed this critical document in order to plan and prepare for the dam’s operation – both as regular maintenance and in an emergency or significant storm event.  

As a result, Town Council approved a contract with Clifton Power Company to complete a comprehensive operations, maintenance, and inspection plan for the hydroelectric facilities. That work was to be limited to only the power generation facilities.

The OMI plan by Clifton Power Co is a five to eight chapter document to be used by the Town's Hydroelectric Facilities Operator to perform three main elements of proper care and operations of the dam. It is not intended to contain every daily, weekly, or monthly activity of the Hydroelectric Facilities Operator. Rather, it is intended to serve as a guidance plan for the operator to follow during routine daily activities.  

Activities of the Hydroelectric Facilities Operator during emergency events is addressed in an individual chapter of the OMI Plan. 

In additional steps toward the dam remediation project, Town Council, on August 1st selected Schnabel Engineering to provide engineering and professional services for the repair and renovation of the dam, its appurenances, and powerhouse.  

The Town issued a Request for Qualifications for these services in April 2018. Two firms responded and were evaluated by a five- person selection committee chaired by Lake Lure Mayor Kevin Cooley.  Based on numerous quantifiable parameters, a scoring method was developed to evaluate the two firms.

In mid-July the committee unanimously voted to select Schnabel Engineering for the work. Of the many qualifications cited by Town Council the interim town manager was the fact that Schnabel has considerable experience and connections in locating funding sources for the project.  

General Background Regarding the Condition of the Lake Lure Hydroelectric Dam: 

A  two-part dam study, conducted over the winter of 2018, found multiple  issues that require immediate attention. As the repairs are made, however, Dr. Marks told Town leaders that the life of the historic dam can be extended by another fifty years.

In the study, Dr. Marks recommended four comprehensive phases to remedy the dam’s multiple issues. He anticipates that the cost of repairs will be between $4.5 and $5 million dollars and will take about five years to complete.

As a result of the comprehensive study - encompassing two large binders of documents, tests, analysis, historical data, reports, drawings and images, the Town was able to get a far more complete picture of the challenges, strategies and overall estimated cost for corrective action.

The dam remediation process will follow three concurrent paths: funding, engineering, and construction. All three are being actively pursued and developed at the same time. To fund the project, the Town is currently exploring the availability of an installment financing contract as allowed by the North Carolina General Assembly. The expected maximum amount of bonds or other obligations to be issued for contracted for the Town is $5 million dollars.

While the repair needs are serious and they will be expensive, Dr. Marks indicated early on that solutions do exist and that repairs can take place over time. He has further said that the types of repairs that need to be made can likely be completed without drawing down the lake any lower than normal drawdown levels. 

Dr. Marks' study also revealed that not all components of the dam exhibit the same level or degree of degradation or deterioration.  For example, bedrock and groundwater conditions at some of the bays are worse than in other locations. 

These variances in performance were used to establish priorities in the overall Dam Remediation Construction Plan. Some construction activities going forward will be associated with dam operations as opposed to safety improvements.

The study was initiated by the Town of Lake Lure last last year in order to evaluate the structural integrity, stability, and overall safety of the aging dam.

  • Phase one involved a visual examination of the dam with extensive research on its history and construction design, as well as a theoretical analysis of safety and structural integrity.
  • Phase two focused on physical testing and measurements which resulted in a more defined safety and structural analysis based on the actual test results and measurements.

Throughout the process of learning more about the challenges associated with the aging dam, Town Council has continuously reaffirmed its commitment to finding a way to fund the repairs, keep citizens informed, and protect the recreational livelihood of the lake for residents and visitors alike.  

Even before the study was commissioned, the Town had begun to take several important steps in recent years to address aging infrastructure challenges. Since 2012, approximately $1.26 million dollars has been directed toward the dam and hydroelectric related repairs, updates, and replacement of equipment.

Of the situation, Town leaders also point out that it is important to remember that the issues associated with the dam have occurred slowly over time. 

Routine maintenance activities at the Lake Lure Dam have taken place with regularity, but have focused primarily on the powerhouse equipment, intake gate, and spillway gates. No significant structural repairs have been made.  

Completed in September 1926, the dam created the lake for which the community is named. Full impoundment of the lake was completed in 1927.