Sylva will spend $25,000 on Fisher Creek Dam study

Sylva will have to spend $25,000 on an emergency action plan for Fisher Creek Dam, due to a 2016 state law requiring dams designated as high-hazard to have such a plan in place.

“It’s not deficient,” Town Manager Paige Dowling said of the dam. “My understanding is it’s on there because of the size of it and the amount of water and where the water would go. I don’t think it would come off that list.”

She showed town commissioners examples of similar plans, inches-thick documents that would be beyond town staff’s ability to develop. Asheville-based Vaughn and Melton Consulting Engineers provided the $25,000 estimate, she said. The resulting document would outline a plan of action to follow in case of dam failure, reducing the resulting liability and loss. 

The board could choose to simply remove the dam, she said, but that would destroy the pond below it that the fire department uses as a water resource for training. 

“If we want to keep the dam, we don’t really have a choice,” she said. 

Tax revenue can be spent only within city limits, and the Fisher Creek Dam is outside of city limits, part of the town’s former watershed at Pinnacle Park. Therefore, the $25,000 must come from the Fisher Creek Fund, money the town got when it preserved the Fisher Creek watershed as a conservation easement. 

The fund currently holds $3.2 million, with 40 percent required to go toward projects related to water quality and the remaining 60 percent unrestricted. Dowling suggested the $25,000 be paid out of the 40 percent, as it would meet the parameters for a water quality project. Commissioner David Nestler, however, was adamant that it not come out of the water quality portion of the fund. 

“Let’s take it out of the portion of it that does not necessarily need to be spent on water quality,” he said. “That’s to be spent on cleaning up the creek and maintaining our water quality. This is a report required by the state we don’t get anything from. It’s just a study.”

Nestler ran his 2015 campaign partially on the belief that Fisher Creek funds should be safeguarded solely for water quality projects and has advocated for a cleanup of Scotts Creek and for rehabilitation and expansion of trails at Pinnacle Park, where the Fisher Creek watershed is located. 

Mayor Lynda Sossamon pointed out that, were the dam to fail, it certainly would impact water quality, while Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh said that future water quality projects could be funded out of the 60 percent were the 40 percent depleted. Nestler maintained, however, that the study should be funded with dollars not earmarked for water quality. 

The rest of the board wound up going along with Nestler’s assertion, voting unanimously to fund the study out of the 60 percent portion of the Fisher Creek Fund. Vaughn and Melton will complete the study within eight weeks.

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