Ledbetter Dam repairs to cost $2.5 million

Annual debt service payments $248,500

By Kevin Spradlin

Previous coverage
* July 18, 2014: Ledbetter Lake property owners get legislative lift

ROCKINGHAM — Property owners along the Ledbetter Lake Dam area with shorefront property will soon see an increase. A big one.

For the majority of property owners, however, it’s one they’ve long fought for since the water was lowered and Ledbetter Lake was spoken of only in the past tense. Rick Sago, county manager for Richmond County government, gave six members of the Board of County Commissioners an update on the project Tuesday night during their monthly public meeting.

 This image and projection of work to repair the Ledbetter Dam is on file with the application with various state agencies.

This image and projection of work to repair the Ledbetter Dam is on file with the application with various state agencies.

Those in the special assessment tax district will pay approximately $4.67 per foot of property to allow the dam to be repaired and the lake to be refilled. The project is estimated to cost $2,588,000. A 15-year loan at 5 percent increase will result in an estimated annual debt service payment of $248,500. Sago emphasized the property owners, and not the county, bear the full burden of paying back the loan. A total of 136 properties are affected by the issue.

The project cost includes:
* $1.8 million in repairs
* $150,000 in legal fees
* $390,000 for engineering services

Sago said the $390,000 is to reimburse the Ledbetter Dam Association for money already spent. Only a handful of the affected property owners pitched in for the engineering services. Including this reimbursement within the loan would get each property owner paying in the same amount.

County attorney Steve Futrell was directed to draft a new petition to show property owners’ support. The first one garnered the signatures of 67 percent of affected property owners, Sago said, but this one would have more information, including a more narrowed cost estimate, “so people who sign it know exactly what they’re getting into.”

A Google Maps aerial image of the Ledbetter Lake area.

A Google Maps aerial image of the Ledbetter Lake area.

“The majority of property owners should be happy with this solution,” Sago said.

Sago said there were other, more affordable options available but property owners weren’t able to take advantage of those options.

Sago said a representative of the state Local Government Commission “recommended finding another way. Obviously, they couldn’t find another way … but they will get their dam back.”

The talk turned to economics. Commissioner Thad Ussery asked why banks would be hesitant to back this loan. Sago said it’s because it’s completely dependent upon the property owners to repay the loan.

“We’re involved,” Sago said of county government, “but we’re not pledging our revenue. If those folks don’t pay it, the rest of the taxpayers don’t chip in. The county doesn’t have anything on the hook for this.”

Sago said if property owners will have a significant incentive to pay.

“We have pledged we will foreclose on (the) property if they don’t pay their assessment,” Sago said.

Any sale of property, then, would be to recoup the money owed towards the debt service.

Commissioner Ben Moss wanted to know what happened if the new petition doesn’t earn the required signatures.

“Then the process dies,” said Sago, who doubted it’d be an issue.

According to a December 2013 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Gerald Pottern, a senior biologist with Robert J. Goldstein and Associates Inc., a Raleigh-based environmental consultation firm, the project will include “the following much-needed structural and safety improvements to the dam:

* demolish the deteriorated upper portion of the primary spillway, outlet gates, training walls, powerhouse and penstock;
* rebuild the primary spillway at the existing crest elevation, encasing it in a concrete monolith and widening the base to improve the structural stability;
* rebuild the outlet works and non-overflow dam section (left abutment) between the primary spillway and the mill building, installing new gates and controls;
* rebuild the earth embankment and training wall between the primary spillway and Ledbetter Road (right abutment) with a drain system to capture and convey seepage.

The repair project has been designed by Schnabel Engineering of Greensboro. Pottern noted that the State Historic Preservation Office indicating the Ledbetter Manufacturing Company mill building “might be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. However, the deteriorated condition of Ledbetter Dam would make it a non-contributing element if the mill is proposed for NRHP listing. SHPO concurs that the proposed dam repair will have no effect on historic properties.”

A group of residents, led by Frank Parker, formed Ledbetter Lake Dam Management Inc. and requested legislative assistance via the Richmond County Board of Commissioners earlier this year.

North Carolina dam safety inspectors examined Ledbetter Dam in April and July 2012 and issued a Notice of Deficiency on July 20, 2012, that identified several problems and maintenance issues that could result in dam failure during high flow events or seismic activity. Reported problems include cracks and leaks on the left side of the spillway, concrete deterioration, seepage through the embankment, stability of the embankment and much more. The notice instructed the owner to prepare and emergency action plan and to draw down the lake at least 5 feet until permanent repairs are completed.

The lake was drawn down to the lowermost gate to remove accumulated logs and debris in 2013.



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