December 1, 2015

DHEC: Owners of 24 failed dams still have not responded with repair plans

Barr Lake in Lexington, one of 24 statewide that DHEC says it did not receive any documentation from owners (Image courtesy: National Weather Service)

Barr Lake in Lexington, one of 24 statewide that DHEC says it did not receive any documentation from owners
(Image courtesy: National Weather Service)

South Carolina’s environmental agency is warning two dozen dam owners across the Midlands the private operators will be on the hook for any fines or forced repairs if they do not submit repair plans as ordered last month.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control sent Notices of Violation to the operators of 24 dams — mostly rural or small neighborhood lakes — saying the dams’ operators did not submit repair plans as required. The agency had sent emergency orders to 75 dams across South Carolina that either failed in last month’s record rainfall or are in danger of failing if repairs are not done.

The agency said it received plans from only 42 of the 75 dams by the October 30 deadline. In response, the agency sent out violation notices and warned it could also send more to the other 9 dams if it does not hear back by Monday. None of the tardy plans were for “C1” dams — a classification that means failure could cause a loss of life. However all but two are classified as “C2,” meaning regulators believe their failure could damage infrastructure.

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DHEC: Unlikely that federal funds will be used for dam repair in SC

U.S. 21 was closed north of Columbia after a dam holding back Lake Elizabeth failed in the aftermath of the Oct. 4 storm (Image: SC Highway Patrol)

U.S. Highway 21 was closed north of Columbia after a dam holding back Lake Elizabeth failed in the Oct. 4 storm’s aftermath (Image: SC Highway Patrol)

State environmental officials say it is unlikely the federal government will cover the costs to rebuild nearly three dozen private dams that failed during last month’s flooding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is helping pay for repairs to some homes and businesses that were damaged, but the agency does not extend that to small dams, according to Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Heigel.

“The guidance that has been given repeatedly now from FEMA is that they will not pay for repairs to private dams,” Heigel told a state Senate panel last week.

DHEC has identified 36 dams that failed during the record early October flooding. 31 of those dams were regulated by the state and are mostly small neighborhood or farm ponds that are privately owned. One — Semmes Lake located at the Fort Jackson Army base — is federally-run and regulated. All are situated in the Midlands of central South Carolina, with 23 in the Columbia region.

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DHEC issues emergency orders for 63 dams statewide

Floodwaters pour over the Forest Lake Dam. Fears about the dam's failure led to evacuations last week, but the dam was able to hold (File)

Floodwaters pour over the Forest Lake Dam. Fears about the Forest Acres dam’s failure led to evacuations last week, but it was able to hold (File)

South Carolina environmental officials have issued emergency orders for more than five dozen dams across the state. The regulatory move comes less than two weeks after 36 dams failed during this month’s record flooding.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control announced Friday it had issued emergency orders to 63 dams, nearly all small earthen neighborhood or rural structures. All of the affected dams are located in the Midlands, with the larget number (28) in Richland County. Dams that ended up failing during the October 3-6 storm are included in the list of 63.

The orders vary, but can range from requiring the dam owner to lower the water level or to completely empty the reservoir, and take other immediate measures to reduce the risk of dam failure. The agency said the dams are still not considered an immediate threat to public safety.

DHEC issued the orders after inspecting nearly 400 “class one” or “class two” dams within the past two weeks.

While the state regulates dams in South Carolina, it can only issue orders and advisories. Maintenance and repairs on the dams are the responsibility of its owners.

Unusually high tides, combined with record rainfall, devastate popular SC beaches

Erosion washed out the dunes underneath these private boardwalks in North Myrtle Beach (Image: SC Beach Advocates)

Erosion washed out the dunes underneath these private boardwalks in North Myrtle Beach (Image: SC Beach Advocates)

Coastal communities are asking for help fixing their beaches after high tides and storm surges from Hurricane Joaquin combined with unprecedented amounts of rainfall to devastate sand dunes protecting homes.

The storm coincided with unusually high tides (known colloquially as “King Tides”) to increase the wave intensity. The erosion has damaged beach infrastructure and resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand along the South Carolina coast. While South Carolina’s beaches were not directly impacted by the same flooding that swamped parts of the Midlands and Pee Dee, they did receive record rainfalls from the same storm.

Nearly 18 inches of rain was reported in Charleston by the National Weather Service from October 1-5. Similar totals were reported in the Grand Strand region over the same weekend. DeBordieu, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, North Myrtle Beach, and Pawley’s Island were among the beachfront areas that suffered severe property losses.

Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin told South Carolina Radio Network that the state’s coastal beaches are an economic engine. “Tourism is a big industry in South Carolina, especially along the coast. We send millions of tax dollars to the state every year,” Goodwin said. “This is a big economic industry and a big economic driver and we need to protect it.”

South Carolina was fortunate to be spared the direct landfall of the hurricane. Beaches and dunes would not have been able withstand the combination of what happened when combined with a hurricane landfall, he said.

Goodwin said Folly Beach has begun applying for emergency federal aid to renourish its beaches. The town had just finished a renourishment project last year, at a cost of $30 million. Goodwin said the beach had lost 400,000 cubic yards of sand in the tides






Fire Chief: Driver who drowned near Lugoff had gone around barricade

Image: State Sen. Vincent Sheheen

Image: State Sen. Vincent Sheheen

Kershaw County officials are urging the public to stay off treacherous roads, after a man’s body was pulled from his vehicle early Monday.

The county coroner’s office later identified the victim as 72-year-old McArthur Woods. A female passenger who was with Woods was rescued on Sunday evening, but the crews could not reach the driver in time.

Lugoff Fire Chief Dennis Ray told South Carolina Radio Network that emergency crews were not even aware of the wreck until a Kershaw County deputy who had stopped at the floodwaters heard the passenger calling for help around 11:20 p.m. Sunday. Rescuers were able to get to the passenger in time, but Ray said they had to call off the effort to reach Woods after the situation became too dangerous around 2:30 a.m. They did not recover Woods’ body until daylight returned.

He became the ninth death statewide that was blamed on the storm and its ensuing floods. All nine deaths have occurred on roads, due to either collisions or floodwaters.

Ray said authorities had barricaded Pine Grove Road, where the incident occurred, earlier in the day. The chief said it was not a unique situation either: they having a problem with drivers who are simply driving round barricades on closed roads or even moving them in some cases.

“Our biggest issue right now is that we have roads that are barricaded, they are blocked off by cones and folks are still going around the barricade,” he said.

He said just because the road may not be flooded, it still may be compromised and a danger to traffic. State regulations do not allow flood-damaged roads to be opened again until Department of Transportation engineers inspect them.

One of Kershaw County’s primary north-south connections U.S. 601 south of town also remains closed due to a bridge being damaged. “We basically lost part of a bridge there and that is our major thoroughfare here between Eastover and Lugoff, heavily traveled by commercial vehicles,” Ray said. The route is normally the quickest one for trucks traveling to and from Camden or Lugoff to access Charleston and points south.

They were able to get one major connection towards Charlotte opened. “We were able to open up S.C. Highway 34, so it is now open between Lugoff and Ridgeway,” Ray said.