The Aberdeen Lake dam in 2017

The Aberdeen Lake dam in 2017. (Photograph by Glenn Sides/The Pilot)

Aberdeen Lake is filled for this week’s Fourth of July celebration, but repair work on the aging dam below has been slow moving this year.

The dam was damaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and, in June 2017, the town received a $437,074 Disaster Grant from FEMA to make repairs.

“When we initially started this project two years ago, we were told that dams damaged by the storm would be streamlined,” said Aberdeen Fire Chief Phillip Richardson.

However, the North Carolina Dam Safety program is a relatively small division and there have been numerous dam-related issues across the state in recent years, including Duke Energy coal ash sites that have been under close scrutiny.

“They are having to tighten up their oversight on those. So we have to wait our turn,” Richardson said. “And we wait, and we wait.”

Initial repairs on the sluice gate and to install a coffer dam were completed last year. Phase two, the final phase involving work on the primary dam’s concrete facing, is expected to be finished by October. Progress is currently on-hold while a state safety permit is pending.

Work was also substantially slowed down this spring by inclement weather.

“The coffer dam was put in place to hold back water while work is being done. But we had so much rain that we could not get the water level low enough,” he added. “When it fills, we have to let the water go through.”

Aberdeen Lake is approximately 40 acres on a normal day and can swell up to a 70-acre lake when water is plentiful.

The lake — which is downhill from over 14 square miles of land stretching all the way north to the Pinehurst Traffic Circle — has a daily base flow of approximately 8,500 gallons per minute (about 19 cubic feet of water per second).

The design of the primary dam allows water to flow over the top surface in the event of a flood, in addition to the lower level emergency spillway that provides relief.

In October 2016, heavy rains from Hurricane Matthew flooded lower Aberdeen Park — irreparably damaging the old rescue building in Aberdeen — and drawing attention to a damaged sluice gate on the Lake Aberdeen dam.

That gate is used to control water flow by opening and closing a discharge channel; but, rather than opening or closing fully, the gate on the dam had become stuck in a halfway fixed position. As an emergency protective measure, the gate was opened manually to release excess floodwaters.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, it was determined the sluice gate would need to be replaced. Further inspections revealed damage to the concrete facade of the spillway.

FEMA’s assistance is handled as a reimbursement grant. “The town pays for the work and then we submit invoices to FEMA for reimbursement,” said Town Manager Paul Sabiston.

“Now that the weather has improved, we are trying to do as much work as we can while we wait for the dam safety permit,” Sabiston said. “Our engineer, JT Grimes, feels confident about finishing up this year. Our newest deadline is October.”

Aberdeen Lake was first created in 1882, by industrialist Allison Page. Page owned large tracts of timber and built the dam at Aberdeen Creek, a natural water feature that was also previously known as Devil’s Gut. The dam provided power for a sawmill and gristmill.

By 1948, it was replaced with the concrete dam and the lake transitioned from an industrial asset to a recreational one.

On Thursday, July 4, the town celebrates America’s Birthday at Aberdeen Lake Park with an evening of live entertainment, food vendors, and activities. Admission to the park is free and children can purchase a $5 wristband, which allows them unlimited access to a rock climbing wall, inflatable slide, bounce houses, obstacle course, and much more.

Kids activities start at 5 p.m., live entertainment starts at 6 p.m., and fireworks will begin at approximately 9:15 p.m. No pets, coolers or alcoholic beverages are permitted. Bring your blankets and lawn chairs.

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