Inspectors find 2 hazardous dams in need of repair in Tennessee
Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2010 9:09 pm
JACKSON (AP) — State inspectors have found two privately-owned hazardous dams in Tennessee that are in need of immediate repair, including one that the property owner seems unwilling to fix.
An investigation by The Jackson Sun in May found that there are 66 dams around the state that are classified as high-hazard but are not subject to inspection.
A high-hazard rating means people would likely die if the dam fails.
After the newspaper’s report, officials began seeking permission from property owners to inspect the hazardous dams. Sixty-one owners agreed to allow the inspection, while five did not.
So far, inspectors have looked at 58 of those dams and found two in need of immediate attention — the Wilbanks Dam in Cumberland County and the Drew Lake Dam in Lawrence County.
Documents show the 10-acre Drew Lake Dam had a significant leak when inspected in June. The owner denied the dam was leaking, saying the water came from a spring, and told inspectors not to come on the property again without permission.
The issue of uninspected dams stems from a peculiarity of Tennessee law that allows some dams to go unregulated if they meet certain conditions, including that they are at least 50 years old and that the water behind them is not open to the public.
It’s referred to as the “farm pond” exemption in the 1973 Tennessee Safe Dams Act, but the label is somewhat misleading, because the dams can actually hold back lakes that are 60 acres or more.
There are about 1,200 of these dams around the state, but not all of them are considered hazardous. As many as 70 dams in Tennessee are scheduled to be reclassified as farm ponds within the next 10 years.
State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, has been working on legislation that would strengthen the state’s ability to inspect all high-hazard dams, including those classified as farm ponds.
Herron said he is not yet sure how much support the bill has.
“But it sure looks to me like the folks ought to be willing to come together and protect folks,” Herron said. “It would be unconscionable if we didn’t. … It only takes one dam in poor condition to cause loss of life.”
Herron has a draft of legislation he plans to introduce next year, but he said he wants to talk to Farm Bureau representatives before making the bill public.
Farm Bureau spokeswoman Rhedona Rose said the bureau is willing to talk with Herron. She said the Farm Bureau is concerned with safety, but also with the rights of property owners.
“We don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction to where we create a lot of additional regulations on properties where there has not been a problem,” Rose said.
Lyle Bentley, director of the state’s Safe Dams Program, said he wants to see the farm pond exemption go away. But he said that he is encouraged by the results of the inspections so far.
“Overall, our voluntary inspections have shown that most of these high-hazard farm ponds were in fair to good condition,” Bentley said in an e-mail to The Jackson Sun. “While we continue to have concerns about unregulated farm ponds, namely that they are not regularly inspected like those regulated by the Safe Dams Program, we are encouraged that there appears to be only one or two that are in poor condition.”
Information from: The Jackson Sun, http://www.jacksonsun.com
published in The Messenger 12.28.10