By: Tanner Abel
Homeowners around dozens of lakes in South Carolina have been ordered to hire an engineer to figure out how to replace broken dams after the historic flooding earlier in the month by October 30th.
Most of the dams are privately owned by homeowner organizations and individual families. Those owners are not generally eligible to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Private insurance companies aren't likely to cover the repair either. No one knows how much the repairs will cost. It could be hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
Arcadia Lakes mayor Mark Huguley is a member of the privately-run Cary Lake Homeowner's Association, which is responsible for the Cary Lake dam that failed. Cary Lake is one of the seven lakes that makes up the town Arcadia Lakes.
Huguley estimates repairs to his flood-damaged house will cost over $12,00. Now, he may also have to chip in to rebuild the Cary Lake dam.
Huguley argues that even though the dams are privately owned, the public uses the roads and bridges that the dam helps protect. He thinks at the very least, taxpayers and the government should pitch in to help fund the repairs.
“I feel strongly that the federal government, through FEMA, should have a role in reimbursing and paying for the restoration of the dams," Huguley said. "Asking the homeowners to pay for a dam, it's going to be a burden."
The situation is especially difficult to swallow for some Arcadia Lakes neighborhoods because they have a large retirement population. Huguley says it doesn't make sense to have them aid the restoration process.
"In other words, if you're in your 80s, is it reasonable from your perspective to take on a 20 year mortgage for a dam?" he said.
75 dams across South Carolina are under emergency repair orders with 28 of them in Richland County. An engineer's detailed inspection and replacement plans must be submitted my month's end to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Cary Lake's dam was rebuilt in 1988, but it failed despite receiving a satisfactory review from DHEC last year. The lake level was also lowered several feet before the storm, but to no avail. South Carolina's Department of Transportation can't do any work to replace tge washed out road that ran across the dam until it's rebuilt.
DHEC director Catherine Heigel says if owners don't comply with the October 30 deadline, DHEC "will hire a contractor to go in and take necessary action to protect public safety," then send the owners a bill. That's in addition to a $1,000 fine for not hiring anybody to fix the problem. After the initial $1,000 fine, owners could also face penalties of up to $500 daily.
It's left many dam owners struggling to figure out how to pay for dam restoration on top of paying to fix their house, an issue that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.