Officials warn of impact by bypass on flood control dams

by Trish Rudder

A public outreach meeting focusing on the Warm Springs Run watershed dams was held last Wednesday, July 24 at Cacapon State Park.

Jim Michael, Morgan County’s elected official with the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District, presented the history of the eight dams that were built between 1955 and 1961 to help control flooding. He said flooding in Berkeley Springs is still a problem. The 1950’s land use was much different than it is now on U.S. 522 South, he said.

Michael said a study on the Warm Springs Run was done by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 1991, but the local town and county officials did not agree with the recommendations of how to control flooding.

“Time is changing and that’s why we are here today,” he said.

Tim Ridley, dam safety engineer with the NRCS, said Berkeley Springs lays in the middle of the Warm Springs Watershed and only 30% of the watershed is controlled with the eight Morgan County dams.

Delbert Shriver, dam safety supervisor with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Waste and Water Management, said it is important to monitor the dams with a U.S. 522 bypass being planned. “We need people to tell us what’s going on.”

Kate Lehman, president of the Warm Springs Watershed Association, attended the dam monitoring class that was held earlier in the day. She said the monitors requested updated training.

According to the “Monitoring and Emergency Action Plan for Warm Springs Run Watershed Site 4,” the training included monitoring the dams for problems that could occur under normal conditions, or adverse conditions such as heavy and extended rainfall or snow melt or any damage caused by a possible earthquake.

Monitors were trained to look for problems including seepage, slips, sinkholes, piping, embankment cracking, and bulges and any noticeable form of erosion. The training included emergency actions and an evacuation plan.

A proposed U.S. 522 Berkeley Springs Bypass is scheduled to be constructed in about 2021-22. Dam #4 on Sugar Hollow Road will be impacted with bypass construction, Lehman said.

She said with bypass construction and the development that comes along with the bypass, the number of trees will be reduced and more stormwater runoff will end up in the dams.

“The capacity in Dam #4 will be reduced,” Lehman said.

Morgan County Planning Commission president Jack Soronen said the commission was concerned about the bypass and stormwater management.

Ridley said construction will bring more flooding in the dams.

He said he has not received any permitting from the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) regarding the bypass. He said there has been no interface between the NRCS and the DOH like they had in the past.

Lin Dunham, supervisor with the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District, said there are many unanswered questions regarding dam safety on Dam #3 and 4. He said the DOH should not be allowed to proceed with bypass construction without the information obtained.

Dick Myers, who heads up the county Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, asked Ridley what the local costs would be for a new plan for watershed improvement.

Ridley said on Monday that watershed projects are a three-phase process: planning, design, and construction. The planning and design of projects is 100% federally funded.

“We have no idea at this time what the cost of a new plan would be. The estimated design cost of the selected alternative would be determined during planning. The 65/35 cost share doesn’t come into play until construction with the 65% being federal funds,” he said.

Ridley said when the NRCS met with Morgan County officials last February, it was reiterated that there were no projects and no funding for the town of Berkeley Springs. When the 1991 study was done by the NRCS, and the recommendations were made, the town and county officials did not want to go forward. He said the NRCS does not have money for flood control measures on the Warm Springs Run until the project is approved.

NRCS assistant state conservationist for programs, Laura Smith, said in February that groups or governments “have to be invited” to get federal help.

“And the NRCS has to be contacted by an eligible sponsor or political division of government that has the ability to levy taxes, raise funds and enact eminent domain. NRCS would then request funding from its national office, and if funding is received for a new plan and/or environment assessment, NRCS would likely hire an engineering firm to complete the new plan at a to-be-determined cost,” Smith had said.

Ridley said adding a dam upstream to solve stormwater problems would be too expensive. As he said in February, “go with the channel work that was already proposed.”

Dunham said last week there should be a follow-up meeting regarding flooding in Berkeley Springs.