PTC’s dam spillway issue is not an emergency

I have talked to many people since my opinion was published recently and those people with whom I spoke seem to think that because the problem at the spillway has been reported to the EPD and to Georgia Safe Dams, that it is too late to do the maintenance that should have been done a long time ago and that we must follow their recommendations.

But I am of a different opinion (do the maintenance and fill the lake).

However, this approach will not work if no one will go against these departments. We fear that if we go against them and later something bad happens we will be to blame for a death or other catastrophe. A look at the history of this dam and spillway might be helpful.

In 1994 a hurricane came up from the Gulf and sat on three or four counties for two or three days. Fayette County was one of them. Henry County was another. While I was the assistant director of the DOT for Henry County I talked to the maintenance workers about some of the destruction that had occurred there, and one example was the washing out of a roadway that was also a dam for a rather large lake. FEMA paid to repair it.

It is my understanding that many roads were destroyed and perhaps a dam somewhere, but Lake Peachtree dam and spillway stood the test of what could be considered the first 100-year flood.

In 2004 Fayette County had another flood which might qualify as a second 100-year flood. Then In 2012 the Chattahoochee River became so full that it closed Interstate 285 on the west side constituting a third 100-year flood, which certainly affected Fayette County. In all three of these 100-year floods Lake Peachtree dam and spillway stood the test.

While working for DeKalb County (more then 20 years ago) as a senior engineer and as construction and maintenance superintendent, one of my jobs was to repair bridges throughout the county, and there were close to 120 bridges.

Once every two years each county in the state gets a list of all the bridge deficiencies in every county, and Georgia DOT expects each county or city to do the repair on their own bridges.

In my bridge inspection work I found a void similar to the one we have under the spillway at Lake Peachtree. Although this void (six feet deep, eight feet wide and eight feet long) was under a major thoroughfare, maintenance was completed without traffic shutdown and without public drama about it.

The repair was simple. One of my crews cut a hole in the pavement 18” by 18” and we filled the void with flowable fill. After that I found three more voids under three more roadways. I worked very close with the state inspectors and have a great respect for their abilities. I could call them any time and they would respond within days. I admire this type of monitoring by people who know what they are doing. My dealings with the EPD, however, are quite different.

The EPD has declared the dam on Lake Peachtree to be a Category One dam. This finding is based on a computer-generated model of a 100-year flood rather than a direct inspection of the dam problem. The 100-year flood area, the lay of the land, is the same as it was 40 or 50 years ago, but the EPD in reaction to a concern about the maintenance of a spillway, have caused excessive and unnecessary concern about a problem that can be fixed simply.

If the EPD has been monitoring this dam and spillway, where are the past reports and why has the maintenance not been done as a result of these reports? Could it be that this state division does not monitor dams but only reacts when people think they see is a potential catastrophe?

As I stated in my previous opinion, the void was there more than a year and a half ago; I could tell by watching from the bridge. I think it is possible that the void has been there for a number of years, perhaps since the 1994 flood.

Something like that does not be come an emergency simply because someone discovered it. Like the voids under the DeKalb County roadways, it took years to develop, was not an emergency to fix, but when I found it, I had it repaired.

I started work for the Illinois DOT in 1963 (the same year the clean air/clean water bill was approved). At the University Of Illinois I received technical training in Civil Engineering. I got all the basic knowledge a civil engineer gets. In the first three years I had built 20 interstate bridges and about 10 miles of interstate. These bridges were over waterways, interstate roads, over railroads.

We did everything: The land survey through farms and around cities, construction surveys for the roads and for the bridges, all the inspections on all materials involved in building interstates. It was an education most civil engineers will never get. From there I worked for civil engineering consulting firms, construction contractors and for municipalities like DeKalb County, and finally for the the cities of Sandy Springs and Roswell.

If you think that this is a done deal, then you are right. If you think it was a manufactured calamity, you need to speak up and gather into a mass of “We the People” and let it be known. The dam and spillway have stood the test. They just need a little loving care that they have not gotten.

Charles Phillis
Peachtree City, Ga.

SPQR's picture
Joined: 12/15/2007

If your the person in charge and you don't go by the book and something bad happens. Welcome to the world of ugliness.

secret squirrel
secret squirrel's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
One man's "emergency" is another man's...

Perspective can create one's reality. One man's emergency may simply be another man's inconvenience. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that Mr. Phillis lives on the upper side of the dam.

Husband and Fat...
Husband and Father of 2's picture
Joined: 07/23/2012

Who can say the voids in the dam haven't been there since it was constructed?

Guess the county/water dept is still looking for the dam inspection records. Lol

moelarrycurly's picture
Joined: 10/17/2010


Husband and Fat...
Husband and Father of 2's picture
Joined: 07/23/2012
Mr. Phillis

I tend to agree with your line of thinking. This was not an emergency and could have been handled quickly, quietly, and inexpensively. However, in todays litigious society, many people are too afraid to make the hard decisions. The dam became an emergency only when we opened up the can of worms and contacted the state.

I stated on here weeks ago that the city/county could have simply damned each end of the spillway, cored holes into the top and simply poured some flowable fill into the voids. Then we could have simply saved money for a replacement spillway 10 years down the line.

Of course we still need the city and county officials to perform yearly reviews and maintenance, which appears we lacked in previous years.

Our residents are the real losers since we missed out on a wonderful summer treasure.

Recent Comments