The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ announcement late last week that Lake Cumberland will be 20 feet higher this coming vacation season has already generated construction activity in the Burnside area.
“We’ll add five 40-foot sections of dock,” said Holly Polston, general manager of sprawling Burnside Marina. She said pipe for the 200-foot extension arrived Tuesday.
“We’re really excited,” Polston added. So is Burnside Mayor Ron Jones.
“This is really going to be good for us. There’s no doubt about that,” said Jones. “It seems to me tourist activity has slowed each year since the lake has been down, and its going to take a while to get it back. People have gone to other lakes and they’ve settled in,” the mayor added.
Jones blames much of the slowdown in tourist activity to the economy. What has been dubbed “The Great Recession” began in 2006, about a year before the drawdown of the lake. The economy only recently has begun to improve.
“If the economy improves, people will have some money to take a vacation,” said Jones, mayor of the “Only Town on Lake Cumberland.”
Polston agrees. She said the slowdown in visitation to Lake Cumberland was more due to the economy and high gasoline prices. “The first year the lake was down had some effect, but people got use to it.”
Carolyn Mounce, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she heard a couple of comments at the Cincinnati Travel, Sports and Boat Show last weekend, something to the effect: “We really like the lake as it is now.”
Even at its low level, Lake Cumberland is the third largest lake east of the Mississippi River with 35,000 acres of water averaging 50 feet deep.
Because of caveats the Corps usually adds to its announcements, a reporter wondered if Burnside Marina might be “jumping the gun” in quickly extending the docks.
“No,” assured Polston. “When they called us last Thursday, it was definite. The lake will start to rise in April and be 20 feet higher by June. That’s what they told us Thursday. It was definite.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the Wolf Creek Dam Remediation Project is ahead of schedule and the Corps is now making plans to raise the water level this summer.
Don Getty, project manager, told the Commonwealth Journal current projections are to have the lake between 700 and 705 feet above sea level for the upcoming vacation season. This is about halfway to the historical 723 feet, or tree line, he noted.
Then he added customary caveats.
“It’s not an absolute,” said Getty. “There is still a risk ... but a high probability that we can raise the lake about 20 feet this summer.” He said there are a “lot more risks” in the level between 705 and 723 that the first 20 feet.
“Our goal is to have the lake at the historical 723 feet above sea level by summer 2014,” Getty said. “There are still a lot of concerns ... a lot of unknowns,” he inserted.
Burnside Marina is both confident and excited.
“Previous statements to us from the Corps added cautions, but the call last Thursday was a definite ... the lake is going up,” Polston assured. Pointing to murky water around the marina, she said the lake is around 690 (feet above sea level) now, because of heavy rains in the Cumberland River Basin.
Getty had caution in his voice when he discussed the lake rise with the Commonwealth Journal.
Achieving this level is dependent on completing the barrier wall and obtaining safety approval. Sufficient rainfall after approval of the barrier wall will also be part of the equation of raising the lake for the 2013 summer recreation season, he added.
Lake Cumberland has been held as nearly as a possible to 680 feet, or about 40 feet below normal, since January 2007. The lower level relieved pressure on the mile-long structure during the remediation work made necessary because the dam was in “high risk” of failure.