Local News

Hope Mills Lake drained because of sinkhole

Posted June 17, 2010

— A sinkhole that was allowing water to flow uncontrolled beneath the Hope Mills Lake dam prompted authorities to drain the lake and close a bridge on the dam Thursday.

Engineers were inspecting the integrity of the two-year-old dam, which has had leaks in the past, according to Cumberland County authorities. Authorities said Lakeview Road might be reopened later Thursday.

"This is a sad day for Hope Mills," town manager Randy Beeman said. "This is the fabric, the center-point of the social mecca, if you will, of the town of Hope Mills."

A system or structural failure around the drainage system allowed the sinkhole to develop, officials said. It was unclear if natural or human-made factors, or a combination of them, led to the failure.

Efforts to capture an alligator spotted in the lake had nothing to do with the situation, Beeman said. The alligator was spotted swimming a creek downstream before the lake was emptied.

The dam had been under close monitoring because of the potential for a breach to cause damage, he said. On Wednesday, they noticed silt in water coming out of a relief jet, which normally carries clear water. They started gradually releasing water, and by early Thursday, the rate of water loss had increased – which meant the lake was draining itself. By 6 a.m., the lake was dry.

Then, engineers found a sinkhole that had formed underneath the dam, allowing water to escape from the lake uncontrolled.

Because engineers had started a gradual, controlled release of water, though, a large rush of water through the sinkhole was avoided, Beeman said. So far, reports of damage downstream were light.

Hope Mills lake drained Hope Mills lake drained

But the lake will no longer be the centerpiece of the town's planned Fourth of July festivities, Beeman said. Instead, the festivities will be held in the municipal park.

"It's a disaster," said Barbra Martin, who's lived in Hope Mills since 1968. "The lake is our daily income for all the visitors to come."

The town has been grappling with problems with this dam and an older dam at the lake since 2003.

"This seems to be a repeat of history," Beeman said.

In 2003, an older, earthen dam burst, and a new, $9.8-million concrete dam wasn't finished and the lake filled again until August 2008, when the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay dumped heavy rain. The lake had to drained again in November 2008 to repair small leaks to the dam. At the time, town officials said small leaks are common in new concrete dams.

On Thursday, Town Councilman Tonzi Collins expressed frustration with the construction.

"To see the workmanship that's been done, in my opinion, to see this go in this short period – there is no reason for this," Collins said.

So far, the town has invested about $14 million in building and maintaining the newer dam. It is still paying off a $4 million loan.

Collins said he has suggested putting payments to the dam builders on hold and filing a lawsuit against them. Beeman, though, said that the town will keep its financial obligations and was still reviewing its legal options.

"It's sad," Collins said. "The taxpayers are paying for every bit of this. It's coming out of their pockets."

The community group Friends of Hope Mills Lake recently spent $30,000 to clean up the lake, organizer Mike Mitchell said.

The town did not have insurance for the dam, because the state of North Carolina does not allow towns to insure dams, Beeman said.

The dam will have to undergo extensive inspection before town leaders start to decide the next step – whether the dam can be repaired, if it needs to be replaced or what the town's legal options are, he said.

"Hopefully, it can be patched or fixed, and we can go on with the life," Mitchell said.


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  • haphaz Jun 17, 2010

    The dam at Lake Upchurch failed during the same storm as Hope Mills Lake. That dam has been rebuilt and the lake filled for some time now, haven’t heard of any "normal' cracks in the new concrete structure at Upchurch. I wouldn’t buy a new brick house with cracks in it. This whole project has been a boondoggle from the word go. Now they want to “PATCH IT" and go on with life. I’m sure a lot of pockets got nice and fat while the taxpayers still don’t have a useable lake. All those involved in the decision process should all be held accountable, from the town level on up. Fourteen million dollars so far, if these clowns have there way, bet they can top twenty mill. Scrap the lake idea, put in a park with a couple of nice public swimming pools. Can’t wait for Election Day!!!!!!!!

  • amyrn Jun 17, 2010

    Efforts to capture an alligator spotted in the lake had nothing to do with the situation, Beeman said. The alligator was spotted swimming a creek downstream before the lake was emptied.

    It's in the story.........I guess that's what happened to the gator...he got out while the getting was good!

  • haphaz Jun 17, 2010


  • robsarge Jun 17, 2010

    Sorry for your loss, Hope Mills! Maybe the alligator was trying to dig his way out, like a dog under a fence?

  • bgibson3 Jun 17, 2010

    If Google Maps is correct, the alligator might have been washed down all the way to the Cape Fear;-)

  • NoFreakinWay Jun 17, 2010

    since the people in charge of this pond can't get it right, maybe they should call Tony Hayward!

  • haybo61 Jun 17, 2010

    It is amazing to me that for over one hundred years some old men who worked for the mill maintained and kept the Hope Mills pond dam in good working order. Since the mill gave the lake to the town of Hope Mills we have lost two dams. Makes you wonder about whose now in charge.

  • baconricky Jun 17, 2010

    What the hell are you people on about? My "distrust" was because of the hours of "its a public safety issue".

    They knew last night there was a problem, why not just tell the people what it was?

    I fully realize the gov't handles a lot of our lives, and I'm fine with that. Doesn't mean I need to blindly accept that they know what's best for us all the time.

    I'm grown up, I can deal with the truth.

  • phoebelouise Jun 17, 2010

    save the snails!

  • Tolip Jun 17, 2010

    What about the Elodea?