Citizens plan to restore Tuckaleechee Cove attraction Laurel Lake
By Iva Butler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The effort to rebuild Laurel Lake is progressing, but it will likely be a long, drawn-out project over several years.
A group of citizens interested in restoring the lake first met in June 2011, electing Byron Begley as chairman.
On March 9, Begley, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell, County Commissioner Gordon Wright, state Sen. Doug Overbey and state Rep. Art Swann met with two men from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The men work out of the Knoxville field office. Terrell Hendron is with the Safe Dams Project. His job is to approve engineering work on dams, Begley said.
Larry Everett is an aquatic biologist who works with the Water Quality Division with emphasis on water quality, aquatic species and wetlands.
“We learned that the reason the lake was drained is because there was some seepage from an unknown source,” Begley said.
“The Safe Dams Project was established by the state of Tennessee to determine if dams were safe and if they were not, to make sure they are repaired and in compliance,” he said. “The burden of proof seems to be on the lake owners, not the state.”
“Core drilling in the dam and lake bed would determine if there was a chance for a breach. At the time, there was no funding available to do the core drilling. So, that needs to be accomplished and an engineer will design a spillway and determine what else has to be done to bring the dam into compliance and be safe,” Begley said.
“We decided that step would follow the environmental assessment, which would probably cost less,” he added.
The TDEC officials informed the group that there are areas in the lake that are wetlands. There are also streams feeding the lake that could be affected by rebuilding the lake. The water quality in creeks and Little River could be affected downstream from the lake, Begley added.
“Any wetland that is covered by 2 feet of water or more must be mitigated by establishing new wetlands somewhere else within the watershed,” he said, explaining that an environmental assessment will also have to be done to determine how the project would impact the river and streams below the dam.
“The assessment will show how the new lake would affect the aquatic invertebrates, fish and other species,” Begley said. “Determining the change in water temperature and nutrient levels must be done.”
Hendron and Everett suggested the group talk with Dan Eagar with the Division of water Pollution Control at TDEC in Nashville. He is over the Natural Resources Section. Overbey and Swann will meet with Eagar.
The group will then determine guidelines for the required environmental assessment.
Begley said they will try to get help from Tennessee Tech or University of Tennessee to do the work.
“This is something an aquatic biology graduate student could do with close supervision by a professor of biology,” Begley said.
Once the environmental assessment is completed, the group will decide if it should go forward with engineering. The group hopes to apply for some grants to help fund any engineering work needed.
If they decide the project is feasible, Steve Fritts will continue with the concept plan. Fritts is a landscape architect at Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon with extensive experience and who has an interest in Tuckaleechee Cove projects.