Officials excited about news that lake will be back to normal levels
By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus Commonwealth Journal
Carolyn Mounce, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski County Convention & Visitors Bureau was at the Cincinnati Sports and Boat Show opening this weekend when she got news that Lake Cumberland may rise 20 feet for this coming summer’s vacation season.
“You know what I did. I just yelled. I went woweeee!” Mounce gushed. “What a wonderful thing to tell visitors to our booth — the Ohio Navy — that Lake Cumberland is back. It’s absolutely wonderful! I’m so excited.!”
Mounce was reacting to an announcement late Thursday that there is a “high probability” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will allow the level of the lake to rise 20 feet for the upcoming vacation season. That’s a year ahead of the December 2013 projected completion of the dam remediation project and a Summer 2014 increase in the lake level.
Bobby Clue, executive director of Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce, was elated.
“This is very positive news,” said Clue. “If the lake level rises a year ahead of schedule, it certainly is great news for our business community.”
A rise in the lake means new life for Pulaski County Park, the only county-operated park on Lake Cumberland and one of the most beautiful spots on the lake. Tom Hale, operations manager for the lake, said the higher level will surround the park with water and allow boat launching. The park for the last seven summers has been high and dry as the Fishing Creek section of the lake shrunk when the water level was lowered.
“It has been pretty slow since the lake has been down,” said Mike McQueary, caretaker of the park. “This will be good for us ... it will bring in a lot of campers.”
Hale said the water will be shallow in areas around the county park, but there should be enough to launch boats. He wasn’t sure about the boat-launching ramp at Fishing Creek Recreation Area directly across the lake from the park. The ramp has been closed for seven summers except during a brief period when flooding forced the level higher than the Corps wanted.
“We’ll have to assess that ramp when the water gets up ... there may need to be some repairs,” Hale said.
Reason for the possibility of a rise in the lake level is because work in the most critical area of the dam is ahead of schedule. The permanent barrier wall being installed to stop uncontrolled seepage must be finished in this critical area near the wraparound of the earthen and concrete sections before it is safe to let the water rise.
Overall the barrier wall is about 96 percent in place. It originally was thought it would take until next December to complete the wall, but now Corps officials think it will be done by this spring.
A 20-foot rise in the lake will put it at between 700 and 705 feet above sea level, still about 20 feet short of the historical level of 723 feet, or pool stage. Don Getty, project manager, said the goal is to raise the lake to pool stage by Summer 2014.
The lake has been held about 40 feet below normal for the past seven summers because Wolf Creek Dam in 2005 was classified in “high risk” of failure. The solution was a $594 million rehabilitation of the dam that would insert a concrete barrier wall, a minimum of two feet thick, through the entire earthen section of the dam. The barrier extends about 100 feet into the limestone bedrock beneath the structure. Corps officials say this will permanently fix the dam that has been plagued by leaks since the gates were first close in December 1950.