By Wendy Holdren
Although owner Jim Justice disagrees with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s “high hazard” classification of the Mallard Lake dam at The Resort at Glade Springs, WVDEP officials insist that the regulations are simply for the safety of the 2,400-plus residents.
“We’re attempting to protect the lives of the people that cross the roads,” said Brian Long, WVDEP Dam Program Safety Manager.
Long said the dam was inspected in 2008, during the construction of the Chatham Dam, which is a larger dam than Mallard Lake.
He said WVDEP crews were on-site to ensure the newly constructed dam was in compliance, and while they were there, they determined the Mallard Lake dam was large enough to be in WVDEP jurisdiction.
Elmer Coppoolse, CEO of Glade Springs, said the Mallard area was not created as a dam back in the 1970s, but as a spillway.
However, in 1982, legislation changed the definition of the size of a dam to a height of 15 feet, and as of January 2012, the Mallard Lake dam height was 17.6 feet.
J.W. Hamm, director of public works at Glade Springs, said in 2008, the dam had not been officially classified by the WVDEP.
“The next time I heard from the DEP was after the 2010 rain event,” Hamm said. “They actually came out because Chatham, our other lake, we had enough rain to exercise our emergency spillway, so they wanted to come out and check and they noticed that Mallard had overtopped.”
Long said that because of the number of people that could be affected and the fact that the lake had overtopped before, the WVDEP was inclined to give the dam a Class I “High Hazard” classification.
Glade Springs was then asked to submit a monitoring and emergency action plan, a maintenance plan and a permit for the dam to be brought into compliance.
The owner has the option of removing the dam, filling in the reservoir or repairing or modifying the dam to meet safety specifications, Long said.
As for modifications, Long said the WVDEP suggested that the dam be modified so water would not overtop, or that a spillway with a better capacity be created.
He said how the safety specifications are met is entirely up to the engineering design selected by the owner of the dam.
“We never said anything like 40 feet,” Long said in reference to Justice’s claim that the roadway around the dam would need to be raised 40 feet.
Long did say, however, that the dam must be prepared for the “worst possible rain” scenario, which is 27.5 inches of rain in six hours, a standard set by the National Weather Service. All Class I “High Hazard” dams must be prepared for this scenario.
Hamm said a proposal was submitted to install sensors that would kick in as soon as the water reaches a certain level. That sensor would then activate two beams to close on either side of the road before it ever overtopped.
Additionally, he said the guards would receive special safety training to enforce that no one would access the roadway.
Long said these are not technical modifications of the dam and they do not meet the requirements needed to be in compliance.
“The signals are not a substitution for the safety requirements. If a rule or legislation is passed, you have to comply.”
However, Justice asks what DEP proposes to prevent overtopping without raising or lowering the elevation of the dam.
“The main road entrance will have to be closed for an unjustly amount of time if we raise or lower the road to get to DEP specifications and that would cause serious safety concerns for our residents and citizens who live outside of Glade using the Pluto Road.”
Kathy Cosco, chief communications officer at the WVDEP, added, “The monitors and alert system are good steps, but they don’t comply with the specifications.”
Cosco said that civil action, which Justice said in his letter to Glade residents has been threatened, is “not where we want to go.”
“Our first direction is to get the site into compliance with the law. But if they do not submit a proposal that meets the safety requirements, our only recourse is to take civil action.”
She said the original deadline for the dam to be in compliance was April 2012, so the WVDEP has been quite lenient in its dealings thus far.
“We are clearly working with them. They need to give us specifications we can approve.”
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