Bryce dam project near completion

Tim Mohr, second from left, construction resident with Schnabel Engineering, explains to state and local officials on Friday the design of improvements to the Lake Laura Dam at Bryce Resort. Richard Walker, supervisor-elect for District 3, stands next to Mohr. Alex Bridges/Daily

BRYCE – A $10 million dollar project to increase the safety of two dams in Bryce Resort should reach a milestone early next year.

State and county officials along with representatives of the resort toured the dam and the construction site Friday. County representatives on the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation Board of Directors also were on hand to talk about the project.

Construction crews hope to complete work on the Lake Laura Dam in January, capping off years of planning and preparation. Work on the second structure – Bird Haven Dam – is expected to be complete in the fall.

Schnabel Engineering, based in Ashland, Virginia, designed the project and remains on site during the construction. Colorado-based ASI Constructors Inc., which specializes in dam rehabilitation, is building the project.

Jim Fagan, a Bryce-area resident, serves as an at-large representative for Shenandoah County on the conservation board. Fagan, a retired civil engineer, also serves on that board’s dam safety committee. Fagan provided details about the project to the group at the tour that included members of the Board of Supervisors.

Tim Mohr, construction resident with Schnabel Engineering, discusses improvements that will be made to the Lake Laura Dam at Bryce Resort. Alex Bridges/Daily

“Recent regulations would indicate that this dam – although it’s certainly safe by any standards – could not withstand the intensity that we may see in the future,” Fagan said.

As such, dams such as Lake Laura and Bird Haven require increased reinforcement, Fagan said.

The project as designed for Lake Laura Dam calls for the removal of several feet of soil from the downstream face of the structure, Fagan explained. The contractor then will put a special kind of concrete on the downstream side of the dam. Should the lake flow over the dam, the concrete would allow the structure to withstand the flood, Fagan said. The design then calls for the contractor to replace the soil over the concrete to retain the dam’s earthen appearance.

The design for Bird Haven calls for the creation of a box-area with baffles. Floodwater would flow around the dam into the box where it should slow down, Fagan said.

Joan Comanor, a member of the district board for Shenandoah County, said the dams ranked at the top of a long list of structures in need of upgrades. Comanor said it’s taken a long time to reach this point. The Virginia General Assembly authorized a $20 million bond to cover the cost of several of the dam projects. The Bryce dams, once ranked No. 3 and 4, rose to the top over time, allowing the district to take advantage of the available funds for the project, Comanor said. She credited the late Lauck Walton, Fagan’s predecessor, for his diligence to help the district with the project and obtaining the funding.

Workers with ASI Constructors Inc. make improvements to the emergency spillway pipe at the Lake Laura Dam at Bryce Resort on Friday. Alex Bridges/Daily

Construction of the two dam projects was staggered so that Bryce would have a source of water for its snowmaking operations during the winter. Construction of the Lake Laura Dam began in August. Crews had to drain the lake, a process that took about a month, to perform the work.

The Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District owns, maintains and operates Lake Laura Dam in cooperation with Bryce Resort. The district holds an easement on the land owned by Bryce. The resort uses water from Lake Laura for making snow and to irrigate the gold course. Homes border the lake and Bryce operates a recreational area that provides boating, fishing and swimming. The lake and surrounding area recharges the groundwater and serves as a wildlife haven.

Lake Laura Dam, built in 1971, stands almost 79 feet high and 705 feet long. The dam was designed to store water that would run off the watershed in a 100-year, 24-hour storm or 6.5 inches in 24 hours.

Bird Haven Dam LLC owns the Bird Haven Dam and the district holds an easement on the land. A few homes border the lake created by the earthen dam. The flood-control dam that stands 70 feet high and spans 601 feet long was completed in 1972. Virginia also categorizes Bird Haven Dam as high hazard.

The district operates the dam under a conditional certificate from the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board. An engineer from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, in the Division of Dam Safety and Flood Plain Management, works with the district and Bryce personnel on maintenance concerns. The district also falls under the regulation of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Virginia classifies Lake Laura Dam as high hazard because people live in the structure’s inundation zone – the area that would flood in the event of a failure. More than 200 homes, businesses or other buildings lie in the zone, putting approximately 1,400 people at risk, along with disruption to utilities, roads and an airport.

The district contracted for engineering services in 2006 to study the integrity of the emergency spillway. The study showed the spillway could fail during a flood.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com