Dam projects completed at Bryce Resort

Jim Fagan, chair of the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District's dam safety committee, describes to tourgoers the impact of the Bird Haven Dam. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

BASYE – A yearlong project of around $9 million has come to an end with the completion of the Lake Laura and Bird Haven dams in Bryce Resort.

Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District board members led a small informative tour of the completed dams on Monday morning.

A state bond of $20 million was designated for work on dams that don’t meet current safety standards, and the two dams came in under the original $10 million budget. Joan Comanor, a conservation district board member representing Shenandoah County, told those on the tour that the two dams were the first to be restored with that funding. The dams, both high-hazard because of the potential impact of flooding, were ranked at the top of a priority list after inundation studies were conducted.

“We worked very hard to position ourselves because we knew there was no way we would ever come up with four or five, 10 million dollars ourselves,” she said.

The earthen Lake Laura Dam was built in 1971 for $239,506, and the earthen Bird Haven Dam was built a year later for $297,721. Both met safety standards at the time. Jim Fagan, chair of the conservation district’s dam safety committee, said that updated regulations take into account the possibility for stronger storms.

Joan Comanor, Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District board member, talks about the funding process for the Lake Laura and Bird Haven dams while at Lake Laura. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

“(The dam) was safe by most standards today, it’s just anticipating that future storm event,” he said.

Upgrade work began on the Lake Laura Dam by beginning to drain the lake in August 2015, and work on the two dams was staggered with some overlap to keep at least one lake available for water access. Fagan said ASI Contractors, a specialty contractor based in Pueblo, Colorado, completed the work on both dams.

“This type of dam rehabilitation work or upgrade work isn’t typically done by our local contractors … but they did hire from the area, substantially,” he said.

Flooding from the two lakes, Lake Laura at around 44 acres and Lake Carroll at around 16, could impact around 212 buildings and 1,400 people in the Bryce Resort area.

Dan Cox, with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, visited the sites several times a week while the work was in progress. He said the dams were completed on time, under budget and will stand better against potentially extensive water damage.

“It’s not impossible, you could get 3 foot of rain in a matter of hours anymore, especially (in) a good tropical storm,” he said.

Though the two dams are visually and structurally different, Fagan said they accomplish the same thing. The cheaper, more technical Bird Haven Dam is a mass concrete spillway with an ogee crested spill, which funnels water flow and reduces energy. The Lake Laura Dam is now a roller-compacted concrete dam covered in soil.

“Looking at it, it doesn’t look a whole lot different, but under the surface it is a substantially stronger dam than it was before,” Fagan said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com.