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Cary lake dam owners rebuild while others remain in limbo

Cary Lake Dam.jpg

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - As the recovery efforts from the 2015 historic flood continue, homeowners on Cary Lake have taken matters into their own hands. After deciding to foot the nearly million dollar bill to rebuild their dam, construction has begun.

Eric Mohn lives across the street from what used to be Cary Lake. He says he remembers the last time he drove across the dam before it breached.

"It was about 3:30 in the morning. We crossed over that bridge, and my guess is I was the last man over before the bridge blew out, because by early next morning, of course, everything was gone."

Mohn says he is thrilled things are finally looking up for him and other residents in the area.

"I like to come and look at it occasionally because I just like to see progress being made," said Mohn. "For a long time it looked like somebody had just dropped a bomb on the neighborhood and we were just gonna have to deal with it."

The Cary Lake dam was one of dozens that collapsed in 2015. Following the disaster, DHEC received 72 permit applications from dam owners to repair or rebuild their structures.

DHEC Spokesperson Robert Yanity says as of Wednesday, over half of the dams that issued an emergency order have either completed repairs, are under construction or are working to obtain permits. Yanity says officials are working with the remaining dam owners to establish a plan for repair or removal.

Many residents are still waiting for answers from state leaders about how to move forward with the critical safety issue.

"The responsibility of who's paying for these dams are the homeowners who live around the lake," said Democratic lawmaker Beth Bernstein.

The Richland Democrat is on a legislative committee that deals with DHEC and dam regulation. She says while the state won't pay to repair privately owned dams, lawmakers are making an effort to ensure DHEC has what they need to monitor them.

"The number of inspectors that DHEC had before the flood were just insufficient," said Bernstein.

Fortunately for homeowners downstream, the number of inspectors has at least doubled since 2015. Lawmakers hope to continue to increase inspections as more money becomes available in the budget.

Although the 2017 regular legislative session has ended, lawmakers will return to the Statehouse next week to finish deliberating the state's budget. During that time, Bernstein says she and her colleagues will be working to pass funding for DHEC.

"There's overwhelming support and recognition that we need to allocate more money to DHEC for the dam safety program," said Bernstein.

"The idea that they've made this much progress in the last month or two… we're all feeling a lot more optimistic about it now," said Mohn. Residents in his area are expected to be able to drive over the Cary Lake dam by the end of the summer.

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