Study: Reelfoot Lake would need 15 years to recover from collapse

Study: Reelfoot Lake would need 15 years to recover from collapse

Posted: Saturday, August 2, 2008 12:00 am

By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter A study warns it would take up to 15 years for Reelfoot Lake to recover from a collapse of the spillway structure located on State Route 21 on the south shore of the lake. The structure serves as both a spillway with 20 gates and a two-lane bridge on State Route 21. The warning is contained in a formal report issued by the University of Tennessee Center for Transportation Research and the UT County Technical Assistance Service. Dated Aug. 30, 2007, it was released after a lengthy economic impact study. The report states the spillway was constructed about 70 years ago, is very difficult to operate and is leaking badly and could fail at any time. “Such an occurrence could turn Reelfoot Lake into a mud flat and take with it the bridge on State Route 21, which is the most convenient route from the east into Tiptonville in Lake County,” the report states. In 2007, the Tennessee Department of Transportation contracted Dement Construction Company of Jackson to put a steel retaining wall on the north side of the spillway structure. The $3 million project, completed in August 2007, solved the leakage problem, at least temporarily, but did not address the deterioration of the structure itself. Although engineers have condemned the structure, it is still used as a two-lane bridge between Obion and Lake counties. A permit that would allow Tennessee to proceed with construction of a new spillway, bridge and spillway channel is pending at the Memphis Office, U.S. Corps of Engineers. The executive summary of the report also states: • Impact on tourism. “Loss of the pool in Reelfoot Lake would have an important economic impact on Lake and Obion counties, with the great relative impact being on Lake County, which is more heavily dependent on visitation than the more broadly based economy of Obion County. Given a spillway failure, a protracted period of lost visitation would occur due to the time required for spillway and bridge construction, the time required for the lake to refill, the fish restocking process and the time required for plant and animal growth. “During this period, virtually all of the income, jobs and tax revenue associated with recreational activity on the lake will be lost. In the longer term, it is not certain that the lake would ever return to the unique environmental treasure that it is. Experts in biology and park and refuge management speculate that fishing in Reelfoot Lake might not return to present productivity for possibly 15 years given a spillway failure. “Lost visitation will also depress property values, further exacerbating the impact of a spillway failure on the two counties.” • Lost tourism dollars. “… Visitors were estimated to have spent $21,772,000 on trip expenditures within 30 miles of the lake in 2006. Lake and Obion counties are very small counties in terms of population and economic base; thus not all of the expenditures remain in the community. It is estimated that about $5,446,000 will leak out of the community annually, leaving approximately $16,759,000 per year to be captured within 30 miles of the lake.” • Property values. “The fiscal implication of the lost sales and property tax revenue can be fairly dire. Lake and Obion counties currently have combined property tax revenue of $10,585,578. But, given a failure of the spillway, property values and their assessed valuations should decline. … CTR assumes that property values will decline by 25 percent in Lake County and 10 percent in Obion County. “… In Lake County, the rate required to generate lost sales and property tax collections would rise approximately 40 percent to $0.98 per $100 of assessed valuation. In Obion County, the property tax rate would rise approximately 15.5 percent. However, if additional businesses cease operations due to lost visitation at Reelfoot Lake, the tax rate would have to rise even further to the level that would meet expenditures. “If property taxes cannot be raised to pay for needed goods and services, the fiscal implications of the reduction in tax collections can be disastrous.” Published in The Messenger 8.1.08

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