Something has to be done about Lake Forrest Dam, say engineers hired by the cities of Sandy Springs and Atlanta. If the dam failed, it could cause a loss of life and destruction of property for those living downstream.
“Your dam right now has some severe deficiencies,” said Chuck Wilson of Schnabel Engineering. He said those problems include a severe slope on the dam’s downstream, a too-old spillway pipe that water flows through during storms, and an inability to hold enough water during an extreme storm.
But exactly what will be done remains unclear. First, the lake will need to be drained to make the area immediately safe and so that engineers can adequately study the structure, which lies at the bottom of three lakes near Lake Forrest Drive. The dividing line between Buckhead and Sandy Springs runs through those lakes, so any decisions will have to be reached jointly by the two cities.
Wilson was speaking at a Feb. 11 town hall meeting at Chastain Horse Park for residents who live near the dam. During the meeting, city officials were hesitant to say what the options would be to make the area safe for residents once testing was complete.
During a Feb. 3 Sandy Springs City Council meeting, however, Wilson gave a presentation that proposed several options, including repairing the dam, permanently draining the lake or creating a stormwater retention area upstream.
While he said during that meeting that a repair could mean a lengthy closure for Lake Forrest Drive, Wilson said during the town hall it could be possible to avoid a closure.
Brinkley Dickerson, who chairs NPU-A, questioned Sandy Springs City Attorney Wendall Willard, who was facilitating the meeting, about who owned and would pay for repairs to the dam.
Willard said the bill would be footed by the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs, and that they owned the dams. He added that Three Lakes Corporation, an association of the 35 homeowners whose properties abut the lake, owned the lake itself.
“Why isn’t Three Lakes Corporation paying to replace the dam?” Dickerson asked.
Karen McEnerny, a former Sandy Springs City Councilwoman who lives in dam area, asked the same question.
While Willard didn’t directly say the association would pay, he did say the cities had talked with representatives and that any final decisions would be made by both cities.
Ken Bleakly, president of Three Lakes, said the responsibility shouldn’t fall to association’s homeowners because the lakes serve as a drainage basin for 225 land parcels in the area.
“We could demonstrate that [the drainage] flow into the three lakes is not coming from our 35 houses, it’s coming from the water way,” he said. “That’s exactly scientifically what is happening,”
Resident Bill Harrison, who lives directly downstream of the dam, said that he didn’t have any problem with any needed repairs being made. He said he was concerned officials weren’t saying what the options are after tests and studies are done.
“They have no clue,” he said.
Bleakly echoed that concern.
“We know some disruption is expected,” he said. “What we’re really focused on is the long-term outcome. Is the lake going to be preserved? It serves an incredible function. During the100-year flood event in 2004 there was no breach of the dam, so the three lakes retained 4.6 million acre feet of water.”