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White County dodges a wet disaster

Dam breach prompts emergency, but flood never comes

POSTED: May 25, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

The gates are closed at Camp Barney Medintz Wednesday afternoon after one of the camp's dams began to leak Tuesday. The lake is being drained before expected rains arrive at the White County camp.

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The fear that an earthen dam at a 20-acre private lake in White County would fail and flood nearby homes passed early Wednesday when a flood warning was lifted.

Lake Wendy, located at Camp Barney Medintz, a Jewish summer camp, was almost completely drained by late Wednesday, and engineers were already working on a plan to repair the dam, officials said.

Officials said a hole in the dam first appeared Monday, and by 6 p.m. Tuesday, water was gushing out at a rate of 13,000 gallons a minute. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for area residents at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Ed Fiegle, program manager for the Safe Dams Program for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said the camp’s engineers notified state officials Tuesday that the lake’s dam had sprung a leak. Officials suspect the cause of the leak may be a failure in a 30-inch corrugated steel drainage pipe running through the dam that is about 60 years old "and probably well beyond its designed life span," Fiegle said.

By about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, dirt that had churned in a "whirlpool" and clumped back together had created an obstacle to the flow of water, said White County Fire Department spokeswoman Ana Newberry.

"It almost repaired itself," she said.

Two creeks, Jenny’s Creek and Towns Creek, are immediately downstream. Jenny’s Creek rose by a third during the height of the water flow, but Towns Creek, which was about 6 inches above normal, was never seriously threatened.

Only two homes were in immediate danger of flooding; about 12 homeowners in the area were alerted they may have to evacuate Tuesday night, Newberry said.

The worst-case scenario would have seen Jenny’s Cove overflowing and rushing water into the more populated Towns Creek area, she said. The lake’s already low level from the ongoing drought conditions "was a good thing," Newberry said.

"It saved a lot of possible damage and evacuation," she said.

Efforts to reach officials with Camp Barney Medintz were not successful.

According to Camp Barney’s Web site, the 500-acre property, owned by the Atlanta-based Marcus Jewish Community Center, hosts 1,100 campers in two sessions from June 8 to July 31. Lake Wendy is one of two large lakes on the property, which is located off U.S. 129 about four miles north of Cleveland.

Campers and more than 300 staffers begin arriving at the camp in three weeks.

Workers were pushing rock into the upstream slope of the dam to stabilize it because a road that runs across the dam is the only access to the far western side of the camp, Fiegle said.



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