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A gift given to Liberty University in 2008 is going to cost the university $1million dollars, and the school, in turn, wants to give it away. The university received Ivy Lake as a gift from the developer who built the subdivision around it.
“Ivy Lake was created over 30 years ago by the construction of a dam that was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers,” wrote Fred Sloan, a lakefront property owner, in a document he provided to the Bedford Bulletin. “It has withstood all rainfalls without problem. It has had regular inspections.”
Sloan stated that the dam has mitigated downstream flooding problems that were common prior to the creation of the dam and has protected Lynchburg and surrounding areas for over three decades.
“The Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees dams in Virginia, promulgated new rules and regulations a couple years ago that has resulted in deficiency ratings for 300 or more dams in the state. This has imposed a tremendous financial burden upon dam owners,” he stated.
He added that though appeals have been made regarding the calculations, “unfathomable rainfall hypotheses, historical safety, and process, they have not been successful. The DCR has mandated an upgrade to the spillway of Ivy Lake. The dam, itself, is intact, and its integrity has not been questioned.”
Ivy Lake dam is one of the dams the Department of Conservation Resources (DCR) determined to be a high risk dam and that modifications had to be made to the dam, or the lake must be drained and the dam breached. The dam’s spillway is the issue.
“It’s an earthen spillway,” said Lee Beaumont, Liberty’s senior vice president for auxiliary services, a job that includes oversight of the dam.
“It [the spillway] was supposed to have been armored when it [the dam] was built,” he said. “They didn’t armor it.”
Armoring the spillway means covering it with concrete or rip-rap so that water flowing over it won’t erode the dam, causing it to fail. Beaumont said failure of the dam would put 1,000 people, downstream at risk.
Beaumont believes that the DCR requirement is regulatory overreach, but the university must comply by either armoring the spillway or draining the lake and breaching the dam.
Liberty originally estimated, last year, that it would cost $3 million to make the DCR mandated modifications. He said that engineers have now come up with a plan that will reduce the cost to $1 million. Beaumont said the plan is a combination of concrete and rip-rap, with concrete obstacles which will slow the velocity of water flowing over the spillway.
“We’ve been working on the plan for 18 months,” Beaumont said.
Beaumont said DCR is working with Liberty and the decision Liberty made to lower the lake level by 20 feet is an additional safety measure that the university discussed with DCR in the fall. He said this was done to satisfy DCR that progress is being made.
According to Beaumont, the lowered lake level is only temporary, until the spillway modifications are made. He said this will take six weeks once Liberty’s plan is approved by DCR.
Along with DCR approval of the plans, another condition for the repair is getting an agreement with homeowners around the lake to take ownership of it. Beaumont said Liberty wants an agreement that will allow it to still use the lake for two aquatic team sports — crew training and the swimming portion of triathlons.
There is a problem with this, however. There currently is no property owners association to turn the dam and lake over to for new ownership.
“Surrounding property owners have never had a say in how the lake is managed,” Sloan wrote. “There are seven real estate sections around the lake with homeowner associations of some sort, but none have any provision for lake management or responsibility. There is no single property owners association that unites landowners or has impact on lake management.”
According to Sloan, a trust finally had responsibility for the lake and dam and there had been negotiations about selling it to the neighboring property owners. The trust, however, chose to donate it to Liberty.
“There is nothing in existence right now,” Sloan said, adding the Liberty is refusing to make that dam modification unless a home owners association (HOA) is set up to take it over.
Sloan said property owners are willing to form an HOA and Liberty offered to help them do it as well as pay the cost of forming it.
“They were to get back to us with a specific proposal,” Sloan said.
He said this promise was made at the last meeting they had with Liberty on Sept. 21.
Nothing happened. Sloan said Liberty “dropped the ball.”
Lowering the lake level came as a last-minute surprise, according to Sloan, because nothing was mentioned about it at the last meeting.
“LU, while certainly planning the lowering for some time, only started to notify some lake residents on January 9th that lowering would commence on the 11th and that the residents might make some provision for moving boats,” Sloan wrote. “Because of severely cold weather, some boats could not be accessed. An inadequate warning made making arrangements for removal of boats difficult. This action was decided precipitously by LU without notice to the majority of property owners.”
The short notice upset people and Liberty ultimately delayed the start of the lowering to Wednesday to give people time to move their boats. Sloan said Liberty’s approach has created a lot of hard feelings.
Sloan said creating an HOA to take possession of the lake and dam can be done, but he estimates that it will take a year to do this and many details will need to be worked out. Meanwhile, he said there is no reason for Liberty to delay work on the dam while this process goes on. He’s concerned that leaving the lake level 20 feet below normal will create problems because it will leave portions of the dam face, that are normally underwater, exposed. This could require repairs if heavy rains erode it or vegetation grows.
Sloan agrees with Liberty that DCR’s new regulations are unreasonable. However, he said that Liberty, as the dam’s owner, is solely responsible for making the required modifications to the dam.