Hope Mills, N.C. — Torrential rains on Memorial Day 2003 washed away the earthen dam at Hope Mills Lake, and the town spent years trying to finance a new dam.
Construction of a $9.8 million concrete dam was completed earlier this year, and the town began refilling the lake in June. The remnants of Tropical Storm Fay finished supplying the dam; however, residents say the lake is still coming up 2 feet short.
"We just know that we asked for the lake to be returned to its original level, and that's what we were expecting to get,” resident Lisa Waring said.
Waring used a stake to mark the lake level when recent storms pushed water over the spillway.
"And again, there is some room between that stake and our sea wall,” Waring said.
At 750 feet long, the new, zig-zagging dam is 600 feet longer than the old one to meet regulations for holding back the lake's water.
Under normal conditions, the water will flow down a fish ladder in the center of the dam that also will allow fish to migrate upstream from Little Rockfish Creek into the lake. Mayor Eddie Dees says the dam's true test will come when pipes on either side of it are closed and the water impounded.
Four pipes, at the bottom of the dam, are 91 feet above sea level. The top of the dam is 104 feet, that is within a foot of the original elevation, Dees said.
“Water's going to its lowest level, so it's hurrying to get to that low level right now. And we believe that when the water is allowed to be officially impounded, that it will settle in and and seek some lower areas,” Dees said.
In 2004, town commissioners approved a lake level of 103 feet, which engineer Gordon Rose told them would restore the lake to its original size.
“I think that we really need to be patient. We need to get the water impounded. We need to let the water set for a few days,” Tonzie Collins, Hope Mills commissioner, said.
Residents who live around the lake have voiced concerns before about the restored lake being lower than before, saying it was having an impact on docks and swimming areas.
The town plans to impound the water by the end of the month.
Rose is also scheduled to talk to the Board of Commissioners Monday night about the dam. Last week, he said there were safety and monetary concerns about putting the lake back exactly where it was.