Laurel Lake in Townsend could be restored for public use
By Iva Butler | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If plans flow smoothly, Laurel Lake could again be a recreational area by summer 2013.
Local officials met at the site last week with Dan Eagar, who is over the natural resources section of the Division of Water Pollution Control at Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in Nashville.
Laurel Lake, located off Laurel Valley Road in Townsend, at one time had a youth camp, picnicking and other recreational facilities.
“The plan is to restore the lake to 70 percent of what it was before, with an enhanced wetlands, hiking trails and water where people could swim, canoe and fish,” said Gordon Wright, Blount County commissioner for the Townsend area.
Making the lake smaller than it was before it was drained 19 years ago would put less pressure on the dam.
Also, it would mean more of the 85 acres around and including the lake could be used for hiking and nature trails.
It was drained in 1993 because there was some seepage from an unknown source, said Byron Begley, chairman of the informal group of people interested in restoring the dam. Begley is owner and operator of Little River Outfitters in Townsend.
The group first met in June 2011 to discuss the project.
A local group donated the lake to the city of Townsend. But when the city was told of the seepage, officials did not have the money to pay for core drilling. Townsend turned the lake over to the state, which later gave it to Blount County.
165 acres involved
All total, the county owns 165 acres including the lake and surrounding area, said Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell. The lake is fed by Lick Branch, Tipton Branch and a third unnamed water source.
“We’ve got all this land that is basically useless.” Begley said, recalling that the original lake was attractive with a blue tint.
“It’s causing some environmental degradation as it is now,” Eagar said. “We know it’s biologically impaired. The key is we can’t allow more.”
Some long-term thinking would be to allow Parks and Recreation to use the property for some of their programs, perhaps Frisbee golf, Mitchell said.
A restored lake would affect property values in the area, visitation and recreation, Begley said.
“It would be good for tourism. There are a lot of tourists who rent cabins in Laurel Valley. This could be a gateway for Laurel Valley,” Begley said.
“We’ve got tremendous support for this. I don’t know anybody that’s against it,” Wright said.
Eagar advised the group that they need to make an application for a permit to restore the dam.
As far as the time frame is concerned, Mitchell said it will depend on how fast they can put together the application and the reaction of TDEC.
The goal is to get the application in around Aug. 1, with TDEC expected to take 90 days to review the application. Mitchell said realistically it would likely be spring before construction could begin.
If the lake runs 1,000 feet or less from the dam, the permit will cost $1,000. If more than 1,000 feet, it will be $2,500.
So far all the work has been paid for by donations, with no taxpayer money, Mitchell said.
Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon Inc. architectural and engineering firm is doing the concept plan at no cost.