State dam safety officials working to lower lake near dam at risk of failing in Harnett County


RALEIGH – Officials with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources are using a siphon to lower water levels in a private lake in Fuquay-Varina where state officials say portions of an earthen dam are at risk of failure.

State dam safety officials installed an 8-inch siphon Wednesday to draw water from the reservoir and lower water levels in the lake behind the privately-owned Sherman Lakes Lower Dam. The water is being siphoned from the lake and directed into a nearby creek. As of late Wednesday afternoon, levels in the lake had been lowered enough that there is no longer water flowing through the emergency spillway.

The 17-foot dam is considered a high hazard dam because it is about 100 yards from U.S. Hwy. 401, a well-traveled thoroughfare in Fuquay-Varina.

During a routine inspection in January, state officials identified severe erosion in the emergency spillway that was threatening the dam’s stability. The day after a Jan. 15 follow-up inspection, staff in the state dam safety program ordered the dam’s owners to immediately lower the reservoir and gave the private dam’s owners 91 days to hire a professional engineer to develop plans for repairing or breaching the dam. The owners of the dam had not responded to the order as of Tuesday when state dam safety officials again returned to the site for a follow-up and found that erosion into the spillway had increased since the Jan. 15 inspection.

“Things were progressing uncomfortably to the point where we decided we needed to lower the reservoir as soon as possible,” Steve McEvoy, director of the state’s Dam Safety Program. “So we returned to the site today to lower the reservoir to reduce the threat of a dam failure.”

On Tuesday, an engineer for the dam’s owners sent an email to state dam safety officials indicating that the engineer intends to send plans to repair the dam within a week. The owners of the dam are listed as John W. Akins, of Cary, a registered agent of Waverly Development Corporation; John P. and Jo Anne Benson, of Fuquay-Varina, and Samuel Carroll Pearce, also of Fuquay-Varina.

McEvoy said state dam safety officials plan on Thursday to continue operating the siphon to lower the lake levels until repairs can begin. State officials are investigating and will determine any appropriate enforcement action.

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