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Highlands to undertake $2.5 million project on Lake Sequoyah

fr damLake Sequoyah will disappear for a few months in the coming year as Highlands plans to drain the reservoir to complete a pair of projects there. Combining $1.6 million in grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency with another $950,000 of town funds, Highlands plans to install a new intake valve in a deep part of the lake and complete some much-needed maintenance on the dam itself. 

“We think that we need to do this all at one time rather than do [the valve installation] one year, drain the lake and then go back and work on the dam,” said Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor. “There’s no immediate danger of that dam failing, but after 80 years we need to go back now and do some important maintenance work before it becomes a crisis.”

The dam was built in 1926, and no major repair work has been done since. It’s still a sturdy construction, but when the town won a $1.6 million grant to install a water intake valve in Lake Sequoyah, it seemed a good time to take care of dam maintenance, too. 

“These repairs to the dam need to happen at the same time so we only have to pull the lake down once,” said Lamar Nix, the town’s engineer. 

The town relies on water funneled from intake valves on Big Creek, which feeds Lake Sequoyah, and in an arm of the lake itself. In times of drought, though, that might not be enough. Then there’s the constant struggle to make sure that intake valves remain free of sediment and, therefore, functional. 

There has been talk of dredging the area near the Big Creek valve, Taylor said, but “that has not come about and this new intake at Lake Sequoyah will be helpful in making sure we have plenty of water capacity.”

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The grant, plus the $450,000 required match, will allow Highlands to place a new valve in a deep, relatively sediment-free part of the lake. That way the town will gain a new water source and one that will hopefully need less maintenance than its counterparts. 

While the water is down, the dam will get some attention, too. Though the project has not yet gone out to bid, Taylor expects to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 to refinish the concrete walls, replace the plugs and install a drain valve so the town can drain the lake when necessary rather than having to pump it. The town has received clearance from the Army Corps of Engineers and hopes to draw down the lake in October to finish the project by May 2015.

The draw-down might cramp the style of those used to recreating on the lake or seeing the view as they drive past on U.S. 64, but Taylor believes the result will be worth it. 

“These two projects are critical things that should be done,” he said. “It’s important we do them now.”

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