Mainspring considers Ela Dam purchase

Franklin-based nonprofit Mainspring Conservation Trust will take the lead in efforts to remove 97-year-old Ela Dam if its board decides in favor of acquiring the 62-acre property now owned by Northbrook Hydro II.

Violations issued by DEQ for Waynesville Golf project

Complaints by a neighbor about sediment in a creek have resulted in two notices of violation being issued to the new owners of the Waynesville Inn and Golf Club by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. 

Waynesville Inn construction muddies waters

Workers performing construction activities at the Waynesville Inn and Golf Club are in hot water this week after a complaint about mud in a creek drew the attention of town officials and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

Tribe votes no on Ela Dam removal

In a narrow vote June 2, the Cherokee Tribal Council voted against a resolution to pursue purchase and removal of the aged Ela Dam  — despite a unanimous vote  Feb. 3 to have the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians lead a coalition to work toward dam removal and a unanimous vote from the Timber Committee  May 16 to recommend the purchase resolution to Council.

Negotiations continue on Ela Dam removal

According to public documents filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a decision on whether to pursue removal of the Ela Dam in Swain County is coming up in the next month or so.

Tribe leads coalition to remove Ela Dam

What started as a groundswell of outrage over a massive sediment dump  from Ela Dam in Swain County has become a united effort to get the nearly 100-year-old structure removed — supported by the company that owns it and led by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

‘Snuffed Out’: Unannounced dam release covers Oconaluftee in sediment

It was around 1 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 4, when Ken Brown’s phone started lighting up with photo texts depicting a massive sediment load dropping into the Oconaluftee River below Ela Dam, also known as the Bryson Hydroelectric Project. Within half an hour, he was standing on the riverbank. 

Sediment violation found at student housing development

A development on Western Carolina University’s Millennial Campus in Cullowhee has been cited by the state for violating North Carolina’s Sediment Pollution Control Act and the terms of the project’s construction stormwater permit.

The sediment spotter: Fifth-grade science project spurs real-world change

While elementary, junior high and high school students from across the region offered a plethora of good ideas during last month’s 2018 Region 8 Western Regional Science and Engineering Fair at Western Carolina University, one entry in particular caught the eye of judges and university officials alike. 

Liam Tormey, a fifth-grader at Cullowhee Valley School, conducted a study of Tuckasegee River water quality at test sites above and below the Cullowhee Dam, which is owned by WCU — and he found that during recent rainstorms sediment coming from university property at a source point below the dam increased the concentration to levels unacceptable for trout habitat. 

Digging out Lake Junaluska … again

In the ongoing battle to keep Lake Junaluska from filling with silt, the lake will once again be partially lowered this winter so accumulated sediment can be dug out.

Scooping sediment out of the lake is a costly proposition. There have been four digs over the past decade, costing $1.7 million. Of that, $1.2 million came from state and federal grants, and Lake Junaluska Assembly contributed $500,000.

When the first “big dig” was undertaken at the beginning of the decade, so much sediment had accumulated it was a mere four to eight inches from the lake’s surface around the mouth of Richland Creek.

“At that point we were in danger of losing that whole west end of the lake,” said Jimmy Carr, executive director of Lake Junaluska.

Carr and his team first had to play catch-up before putting in place a plan to keep sediment at bay with smaller digs every other year.

“The problem will never be solved. What we are trying to do is get it so it is manageable,” said Buddy Young, director of residential services with Lake Junaluska Assembly.

To set the stage for periodic clean-outs, the lake bottom was reshaped near the mouth of Richland Creek to confine sediment being dumped into the lake into one area, making it easier for the bulldozer operators to get at.

This next round of sediment dredging will cost $300,000 — with half coming from the state and half from Lake Junaluska Assembly.

Lake Junaluska requested $350,000 for the dredging back in 2009, but it didn’t come through that year. Carr said the assembly is thankful Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, continued to fight for the appropriation.

“He really stayed with it in a very difficult budgeting time,” Carr said.

The economic impact of Lake Junaluska Assembly on the entire region helped win the funding.

“Lake Junaluska is a valuable asset to the Haywood Community and the entire region,” said Queen.

Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center attracts 100,000 people each year for dozens of conventions held on its grounds, with an annual economic impact in the millions plus intangible benefit of outside exposure.

The sediment piling up in Lake Junaluska is a countywide problem. One only has to look at the color of Richland Creek during a heavy rain to see the mud and erosion making its way into the water.

“When it hits the lake it slows and the silt settles out,” Carr said.

The lake can be unsightly while work is being done. Lower water levels expose a ring of mud around the shore in the main part of the lake, and a mudflat in shallower areas. The work usually raises eyebrows.

“I think a lot of the locals understand this is a regular thing, but for visitors to the area it is the No. 1 question we get during the draw down: is there something wrong with the lake and why are you doing this?” said Ken Howle, marketing director for Lake Junaluska Assembly.

Though there has been some discussion of sacrificing the lake at the mouth of Richland Creek and allowing it to become a wetland, Young said it would not be a good route to take.

“It is not like it would build up a good quality wetland. It would be a shifting sand bar,” Young said.

A couple of wetlands have been created in the shallow part of the lake, however, benefiting wildlife.

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