Commonwealth Journal

January 23, 2013

Lake economy hopes to buoy

Lee’s Ford Marina owner says lowered Lake Cumberland has resulted in ‘economic disaster’ for boating industry

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

“Raising the level of the lake is terrific news! It’s great for the local economy! It’s great for the region! It’s great for the state and nation! It’s the beginning of economic recovery!”
J.D. Hamilton, owner of Lee’s Ford Marina Resort, was reacting to an announcement last week that rehabilitation of leaky Wolf Creek Dam is being completed almost a year ahead of schedule and there is “high probability” the water level will be raised 20 feet for the upcoming tourism season.
A 20-foot rise this summer will raise the lake to between 700 and 705 feet above sea level. Another 20-foot rise in Summer 2014 will bring the lake to pool stage, or tree line, the Corps has said.
Hamilton has made no secret his business has struggled during the past six summers when Lake Cumberland has been held about 40 feet below normal to facilitate repairs to the dam.
“It’s been an economic disaster,” said Hamilton. He has openly blamed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for financial struggles of marines on the lake and businesses in the region that depend on tourism.
“My criticism is the Corps’ “emergency order” says they would work with us (marinas) to mitigate damages to the maximum extent possible,” said Hamilton. “They haven’t done that.”
“We (Lee’s Ford Marina Resort) lost 60 percent of our water, an 800-acre park (Pulaski County Park) and a Corps recreation area (Fishing Creek Recreation Area), said Hamilton. Now that the water is coming up, moving parts of the marina to accommodate higher levels is also an expense marinas will have to bear, he noted.
Lee’s Ford Marina Resort near Nancy is located on the Fishing Creek arm of Lake Cumberland. Pulaski County Park and Fishing Creek Recreation Area, both upstream from the marina, have been left high and dry since the lake was lowered.
The Corps gave marinas on Lake Cumberland one year’s free rent after the lake was lowered. Hamilton says he pays about $200,000 a year in rent to the Corps.
“I hope they (Corps) will help us recover economically,” Hamilton remarked. His losses during the past six years approach $6 million, he said.
Already in place is a state-coordinated Lake Cumberland Economic Security Plan that would guide the area back to economic prosperity. Hamilton says implementation of this plan, with assistance and cooperation from the Corps, would hasten recovery and put people back to work.
Hamilton doesn’t disagree with the need to repair Wolf Creek Dam.
“They had to fix the dam ... and I think they have fixed it right,” he said. “I commend them for that.”
Wolf Creek Dam has been plagued with uncontrolled seepage since the lake filled up during 1951. An outside panel of experts in 2005 declared the dam in “high risk” of failure and a major rehabilitation of the mile-long structure was necessary.
The “permanent fix,” as the Corps calls it, was installation of a concrete barrier wall, a minimum of 2 feet thick, extending 275 feet from near the top of the dam to about 100 feet into bedrock beneath the dam. The part of the wall beneath the dam extends through porous limestone rock at the base of the dam to a more solid stratum of limestone.
The new permanent barrier wall is being inserted 40 feet upstream from a similar wall installed during the 1970s after the dam almost failed during the late 1960s. The first wall was not long enough or deep enough and seepage continued, eventually becoming uncontrolled.