The old earthen dam at Lookout Lake comes back to haunt the Dade County Commission every decade or so, but now there's hope the ghost may finally be laid to rest. (Photo by Jerry Wallace)
For the Dade County Commission, the Georgia Safe Dams Program's problem with Dade's Lookout Lake dam is not so much a matter of hurry-up-and-wait but of wait-and-hurry-up.
"They've drug their feet on this for 11 years," said County Executive Ted Rumley.
But now, he told the district commissioners assembled on April 7 for their regular monthly meeting, Georgia requires the county to act at once to repair the old earthen dam at Lookout Lake in New Salem atop Lookout Mountain.
The issue of the dam's safety or lack of same—and Rumley has maintained throughout that the dam, if old-fashioned, is sound and will be there long after he and the other commissioners have returned to dust—arose over a decade ago, and the county began steps then toward finding a way to bring the earthwork dam up to state safety standards.
The dam, and whatever fix it needs, is a public/private venture; the lake is private property owned by Dade funeral director Larry Moore. But the road the lake abuts is a county one, and Rumley said that Moore and the county plan to split the repair cost 50-50. The county engaged an engineering firm in 2005 to address the fix. Then, however, the state put the matter on a back burner and there it remained as the years passed and the dam continued to hold. But now, said Rumley: "The Safe Dam people, they’ve got several new people there so they’re going back and they’re reviewing plans, and they did notify us that OK, we’re ready for you to proceed.” But when the county attempted to contact the engineering firm, it was found that the company had since gone out of business and its owner had died. Now, said Rumley, he's found a state-certified firm nearby in Chattanooga he believes can do the job.“They’ve got a whole different look at how we can go about this dam repair,” he said. “It will not exceed $19,000." That figure is for the engineering plans, Rumley clarified. He said the new approach involves lowering the water level so that the lake goes from a category 1 to a category 2, which he said could be accomplished by the county on its own. “There’s not anything in those plans that we can’t handle in-house,” said Rumley. Despite the need for haste, the commission opted to take bids for the engineering work rather than award it immediately to the Chattanooga firm Rumley had consulted. In any case, said Rumley, it's best to go ahead and finally lay this matter to rest. “This is one of the biggest worries that we’ve had in all the years I’ve been a commissioner,” he said. “This thing has been haunting the county forever.”
South Carolina may have taken the Confederate flag down last year after it was associated with a racially-charged incident that left nine dead, and even Alabama may have sworn off, but Dade commissioners rushed after their Thursday meeting to pose with their own version of the flag, posing alongside the Sons of Confederate Veterans they had invited to speak in conjunction with their proclamation of April as Confederate History Month.
District 3 Commissioner Goff is at far left, District 1's Mitchell Smith in rear, to left of flag, and Executive Chairman Ted Rumley far right. (Missing are District 4's Allan Bradford, who was not at the meeting, and District 2's Scottie Pittman, who was.)
At their work session, the commissioners listened to the Sons' presentation about the Confederacy and their mission, which includes: “the vindication of the cause for which we fought”; “the emulation of its [the Confederacy's] virtues" and "the perpetuation of its principles" and "those ideals which made it glorious."
In other business, the commission approved requests by Dade's emergency services boss, Alex Case, for SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds to replace the county's aging information technology system, and also for the county's 15 percent matching portion of a $48,332 outdoor siren and alarm the county EMS system wishes to acquire through GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
The alarm, located on an outdoor tower, will be loud enough to cover a three-to-four mile radius, said Case, alerting all the county government offices, schools and outdoor areas such as Jenkins Park of emergencies such as tornadoes or flooding. Besides the alarm, the system features a human voice that will inform residents that, for example, the National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning, and advising them what to do, such as to take cover. The federal and state emergency services pay for 70 and 15 percent of the cost, respectively, with Dade picking up what's left.
Case said the county would like other sirens ultimately, the next one preferably to cover the Four Fields area further south on Highway 11. He also said Dade is still in the grant pipeline for a backup generator to keep its water supply going in case of emergencies like the tornadoes that crippled the Water Authority briefly in 2011, and for funds to repair some road damage done in the Christmas 2015 flooding.
District 3's Robert Goff pointed out that the county often takes the blame for the leisurely pace of such repairs but that it is a function of bureaucracy beyond the county's level to affect. "It's a bunch of slow wheels moving slow," he said.
In his monthly address to the public, District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith reminded attendees that the 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge, an annual ride sponsored by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club that in some years has culminated in snarled traffic, injured cyclists and ruffled feathers among the citizenry in Dade County, will take place this year on May 7.
Smith also addressed the horticultural angst of citizens protesting the presence of political campaign posters in the county's flowerbeds. "I've heard your voice and we'll do what we can," said Smith. Ted Rumley said that historically the courthouse lawn and the circle in front of it have been off limits to candidates, with only the high school allowed to post a picture of its top seniors each graduation. "That's been kind of a sacred area," he said.
In his own monthly address, Rumley said he'd attended a meeting at the Preserve at Rising Fawn with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Rumley said the EPD had serious concerns with the failed development's water supply and that all building had been halted there.
District 2's Scottie Pittman reminded attendees that Sand Mountain's two volunteer fire departments had succeeded in drastically lowering their ISO ratings and, therefore, their residents' insurance rates. "If you get an insurance reduction, be sure to pat a volunteer firefigher on the back, because he's the one that got it for you," said Pittman.
April Events at the Dade County Public Library
Dade County Library employee David Connis, standing in for manager Marshana Sharpe, reported to the commissioners that Ms. Sharpe was in Denver, Colo., accepting the library's prize as one of the three best small-town libraries in America, an honor that carries a $10,000 cash endowment.
The library will be hosting a free gardening class on Tuesday, April 12, at 6:30 p.m. If anyone has seeds to share, Connis urges them to bring them along as the library is starting an ongoing seed library.
Thursday, the 14th, the library will host a family game day all day as well as its regular Ready to Read children's program at 10:30 a.m. Then, this Friday, April 15, will be the library's "De-Stress Day. Featured will be massages, snacks and games. "I was told there might be a puppy," said Connis.
All events are free and open to the public. For more information, readers may call the library at (706) 657-7857.
Julie Meadows of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission announced that public hearings for the Dade/Trenton "Joint Comprehensive Plan" will take place this Thursday, April 14, from 4-5 p.m. in the Commission Room of the Dade Administrative Building.This plan, which covers a broad spectrum of public safety and policy matters, must be revisited every 10 years by counties and municipalities as a requirement for applying for certain grants and other federal and state programs.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month in the Administrative Buildings. Its next meeting is May 5.