- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - The future of College Lake depends heavily on how the city of Lynchburg proceeds with addressing deficiencies in the dam under Lakeside Drive near the main entrance of Lynchburg College.

Residents will get a chance to view the options with city officials and provide input on alternatives at the Lynchburg Public Library on Oct. 30. The public meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the community room of the library on Memorial Avenue.

A study began in July to gather information about the lake and its 80-year-old dam to help guide decision-making for the city, which owns the dam. The spillway is not big enough to handle a large storm event and the dam may overflow. It does not meet state safety regulations.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation classifies the dam as potentially “high hazard,” said Jim Talian, water quality manager for the city.

Talian said two options are armoring the dam with a coat of concrete or removing it and building a new bridge. The details and cost estimates are changing constantly, he said, and the two estimates are similar but the big difference with the removal option is dealing with the lake bed.

“Some (estimates) are high and some are ridiculously high,” Talian said.

The lowest estimate for addressing the lake bed if the dam were to be removed is $1.9 million, he said.

“I can see it creeping up to $10 million,” he said of the overall project cost if the dam were removed.

The city plan for long-term capital improvement projects indicates $10 million is set aside for the dam.

“We’re not really talking about anything to save the lake,” Talian said earlier this month to members of City Council. “It’s already dying. Some people might say it’s gone already.”

The low-end estimates to dredge the lake, which is filled with sediment, is in the $18 million range and that option has been off the table for a while, Talian said.

A forebay, a small pool to help filter out sediment before it gets to the lake, could be built to slow down the sediment in the lake, said Tim Mitchell, director of utilities.

Talian pointed out the city is only required by law to address the public safety issue regarding the dam and removal appears to be the preferred option - the city gets a new bridge and eliminates a liability that could mean more costs down the road. No decision has been made.

City Manager Kimball Payne said over time the lake would turn into wetlands. Mayor Mike Gillette said he does not have any sentimental attachment to the lake and argued it may not be good for the environment or the city’s finances to save it.

“This is an artificial human construct,” he said. “The lake was never there until we created it. .I don’t know why we stuck it in there.”

Gillette suggested “letting nature get back to nature.” Even if the removal is more expensive short-term, city officials said there could be a more lasting effect with the dam’s threat gone and a major road feature in place.

The dam was built in 1934 by the Virginia Department of Highways, now known as Virginia Department of Transportation. At 35 feet high and about 300 feet long, the dam features a 60-foot spillway. College Lake drains 22 square miles, mostly in the city and a small portion of Campbell County.

Lynchburg College President Kenneth Garren said in a statement this summer the lake has long been a favorite spot for students, faculty, staff and alumni and merits top priority.

Vice Mayor Ceasor Johnson said the city should be ready to field concerns from residents in close proximity and a generation of citizens who have grown accustomed to the lake’s presence.

“They’re used to that lake being there,” Johnson said.

Councilwoman Joan Foster said area colleges should be involved in the public process since the wetlands ecosystem that would occur is a natural benefit to students. She mentioned the topic as a likely discussion point at “Town and Gown” meetings city officials occasionally hold with area college leaders.

“This is going to be a laboratory for any science major,” Foster said. “What a great opportunity to have hands-on learning there.”

Talian said the city has an application permit due to DCR on Dec. 1. The city is not going to meet that deadline, he said, but added DCR is cooperative as long as progress is being made.

The city is coordinating its planning closely with Lynchburg College, Talian said.

“They know as much as we know,” he said.

___

Information from: The News & Advance, http://www.newsadvance.com/

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