Residents are noticing water level changes in the Ledbetter and Roberdel area of Rockingham after Ledbetter Dam began releasing lake water earlier this week, to deal with a leak. Continued rain may slow the process.
After this week’s announcement from Richmond County Emergency Services that Ledbetter Dam had a level 2 leak, residents have been notified that dam failure could be possible if the leak isn’t repaired.
The owner of the dam, R.E.C. LLC out of Goldston, N.C., is working to evaluate the damage it said comes from normal wear and tear on concrete. R.E.C. LLC is a hydroelectric power generation company.
“All concrete has cracks,” said Dean Brooks, manager of R.E.C. LLC. “Look at any dam, even Hoover Dam has cracks.”
Brooks said the leak has been there for decades. “… We have pictures of it from the 90s,” he said.
However, earlier this week during an interview with the Daily Journal, Brad Cole, Fayetteville Regional engineer for the Land Quality Section of the NCDENR, said the dam was last inspected in April, and the leak wasn’t there then. He said the leak does show signs of having been there for some time, though.
According to officials from the NCDENR, if the leak is not attended to, it could lead to failure of the dam.
“We’ve been instructed by the state to lower the water,” said Brooks.
Brooks said this will continue over the course of several days. The state asked that the lake not go down more than 12 inches in a 24-hour period, and Brooks said the current flow is releasing about seven inches per day.
“Both days we had stormwater events that added an inch or two to the lake,” he said. “We are at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
If you stand on the bridge on Ledbetter Road, you can see the whole dam. The water is roaring out of the gate on the front of the dam, rushing so fast you may feel a slight spray on your face, even as far away as the bridge. Rushing downstream, the water is being noticed by residents who live on the water’s edge.
The creek flows down into Roberdel Pond, and Keith Hawkins at 232 Terry Bridge Road has property that backs up to the pond.
“Last week the water was about four feet lower than normal,” said Hawkins. “What I saw this morning (Friday) was probably two feet above normal. My dad has a place on Ledbetter, and he got one of those letters that said there was a level 2 leak in the dam.”
Hawkins is referring to letters sent out earlier this week by Emergency Services, notifying residents in the Ledbetter area of the leak in the dam, and the possibility of an evacuation, should the dam begin to fail before it can be repaired.
Hawkins works at McKinney Lake Fish Hatchery. He said there is much discussion at the hatchery about the dam. The hatchery ponds feed into Ledbetter Lake, said Hawkins.
As for the Roberdel Pond, “It would take a lot for it to flood. I saw it drained when I was a kid.”
Hawkins said he has heard the older generation, including his father, talk about the Ledbetter Dam bust of the 1940s.
“They said the dam’s always leaked a bit,” said Hawkins.
Louis and James Wall are cousins who run WW Clothing and Variety Store at 155 Green Lake Road in Rockingham. Louis Wall said he isn’t worried about his home, because he lives on a hill. The men’s store is on a hill at the intersection of Green Lake Road and Ledbetter Road, and they are well aware of what could happen.
“If and when it goes, it all depends on the situation,” said James Wall. His cousin agreed.
“The water will take short-cuts,” said Louis Wall. “It could branch out, causing other damage. All the people on Terry Bridge Road are in danger (if the dam fails). They just put up a big home on the corner.”
Louis Wall said he grew up playing in the lake and creeks, and has seen the way they change and snake through the hills and trees. He said rainwater often ponds in his front yard, but is gone within hours.
Records show the dam “gave way” more than 60 years ago.
Information included in the Richmond County Multi-Jurisdictional Natural Disaster Mitigation Plan, taken from an archived newspaper article in the possession by Donna Wright, Emergency Services director, said, “Early on the morning of September 17, 1945 Ledbetter Dam, located on Hitchcock Creek, gave way, the result of a week of heavy rain. As water from Ledbetter Lake flooded downstream the Pee Dee lake dam was the next to be washed out. Flooding along Hitchcock Creek was extensive, causing considerable property damage. No lives were lost.”
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.