Fayetteville Observer Feb. 23, 2007

Rhodes Pond dam repairs on hold

By Nomee Landis
Staff writer

The state spent $375,000 two years ago to buy Rhodes Pond for anglers, paddlers and hunters who enjoy practicing their passions at the 455-acre pond north of Godwin.

It was purchased for inclusion in the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Game Lands Program. The state already has opened it to those sportsmen who want to use it.

But because the aging dam and spillway, which form the pond from the waters of the Black River, need an estimated $1 million in repairs, the pond’s management is stuck in limbo between two state agencies. As a result, upgrades to the run-down boat ramp have been delayed, which means users of the pond have a difficult time actually using it.

It’s all a bit muddled, murky as the pond’s black waters.

Technically, the N.C. Department of Transportation owns the pond, which is off U.S. 301. The money for its purchase came from the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program. That program enables the department to buy ecologically sensitive lands as mitigation for the destruction of similar lands during highway construction.

The Wildlife Resources Commission wants the transportation department to pay for the dam and spillway repairs or pass along the cash to do so when it transfers the pond to the commission.

Chris McGee, a district engineer with the transportation department in Cumberland and Harnett counties, said that before repairs can begin, state dam safety officials must decide whether the dam falls in the high-risk category. A high-risk dam is considered to be one that could lead to loss of life if it broke.

That safety determination will affect the level of repairs.

That, in turn, will affect the costs.

The costs will determine how long it takes to make those repairs — and which agency pays.
Timeline uncertain

It is unclear how long it will take for the transportation and wildlife folks to hash it out, McGee said, adding that it is likely that the transportation department will pick up the bill.

The earthen dam is roughly 10 to 15 feet tall and hundreds of feet long. According to a history of the pond that appears on a Web site created to showcase it, www.rhodespond.com, the original dam that formed the pond was built in the 1700s.

Jim Simons, director of the state Division of Land Resources and the state geologist, is also a dam safety engineer. He said the state is considering not only the safety of the dam but what would happen to U.S. 301 if the dam should break. In the past, his division has considered it to be a high-hazard dam, but he said engineers are reconsidering that.

Simons said that trees growing on the dam should be removed, and some repair work to the spillway is needed, including repairing the flood-control gates.

Erik Christofferson, section chief of facilities and operations with the wildlife commission, said some boaters have complained to the commission about the state of the boat ramp.

Christofferson said he does not know how long it will take to upgrade the ramp, but agency staff is working on it. The employees plan to ensure they have the proper permits before they start grading the ramp and hauling in more gravel, he said.

While all of the details are being discussed, Tommy Hughes has some advice for people who use the pond. Hughes is a wildlife biologist supervisor with the commission. He asked that people:

* Avoid walking on the earthen dam. It’s old, dating back to the 1800s.
* Avoid the spillway, too. The flood-control gates need repairs. They’re fragile. And the algae that grows in the spillway makes it slippery and dangerous.
* Haul their trash out with them. No one collects trash at the pond as they might have done while it was under private ownership. All those soda bottles, bait cups and food wrappers will pollute the pond if people don’t pack out what they pack in.

Hughes said only electric trolling motors are allowed on the pond.

Hughes said the pond probably looks different to the locals than it did for the 30 years that the Honeycutt family owned it. The family ran a country store there and lived at the pond. They maintained the buildings and the grounds, which the wildlife commission doesn’t do.
Staff writer Nomee Landis can be reached at landisn@fayobserver.com or 486-3523.