By Kevin Cooley
Mayor, Town of Lake Lure
2018 was certainly a challenging and extraordinary year for our town. Record rainfall (65”+) caused mudslides and flooding that closed roads and required extreme measures to manage lake levels and protect our aged dam. A major, December winter storm recently dumped a foot of sleet and wet snow on our Gorge, making roads impassable and bringing down many trees and utility lines. These damaging storm impacts delayed plowing until road blockages could be cleared and knocked out power to virtually all homes and businesses in the town for several days. We declared our 4th State of Emergency in 2018 to deal with the impacts of this storm. We successfully weathered these events, learned from them and recovered well… becoming a stronger community, better-prepared to deal with these types of events going forward.
During the past year we promoted and hired high-caliber personnel to successfully fill numerous open positions, including the key, senior-level positions of Town Manager, Fire Chief, Town Clerk, Communications Director and Human Resources Director. I believe our team is definitely stronger and performing better overall today than December 2017 when I took office.
During 2018 we took giant steps forward on urgent and critical town infrastructure projects including repair and rehabilitation of our 92 year old dam and hydro-electric generating station. We selected and engaged Schnabel Engineering, a leading, national consulting firm specializing in dam design and rehabilitation to be our dam consultant. We tasked them to perform expanded studies and investigations on the dam to satisfy mandated requirements of the NCDEQ Dam Safety Office and to facilitate final design of the requisite repairs and improvements. Schnabel staff also supported the Town’s emergency response team “in the trenches” during two major storm events in 2018, providing expert guidance on lake-level management and flood gate control to protect the dam from further damage and limit down-river flooding whenever possible. We’ve also added an additional dam operator to the Town staff in 2018 to strengthen and broaden our staff capability and depth in order to more efficiently operate and manage the dam and hydro-electric plant.
Our aged, malfunctioning sewage collection system was deemed by NCDEQ to be “non-compliant” and needing to be replaced with a new collection system running outside the lake. This designation reinforced our earlier decision to “rethink” the Green Line sewage transmission line project that would have pumped Lake Lure’s sewage (aka “contaminated lake water”) 20+miles to Spindale’s Wastewater Treatment Plant for treatment without addressing the non-compliant, badly leaking collection system. We decided to take a new direction to replace our in-lake gravity sewage collection system with a land-based, low-pressure sewage collection system, and to replace our malfunctioning sewage treatment plant with a new, modular-designed treatment plant. We’ve continued to work with Brown Consulting as our wastewater engineers for this project. They’ve completed and submitted new Engineering Reports to NCDEQ that confirm this new plan is the most cost-effective solution to replace our current system.
We passed a fiscally-responsible budget in June 2018 that included a significant tax increase to support continued “lean” Town operations and fund our major capital improvement and enhancement projects. We identified and have pursued multiple opportunities to enhance supplemental income from the operation and use of Town assets. Better operational management of the hydro-electric station, focused on optimizing power generation, has resulted in the nearly doubling of power output and income. A new concession agreement was negotiated for the operation and management of the Town Marina and Beach. This new agreement substantially increases the concession royalties paid to the town by the concessionaire.
We also added new park and recreational assets and committed to hire in 2019 a full-time coordinator to oversee and manage these high-value assets.
We created “new visions” (master plans) for Morse Park, the Town Marina-Beach and our Town Center areas. Lake Lure Classical Academy broke ground and began constructing its new Gymnatorium that will open in 2019. We replaced the lake dredging contractor with one that has performed exceptionally well The Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority (RCTDA) installed new way finding signs to assist tourists/visitors to discover our resort town and find important visitor destinations within and around it.
2018 was quite a year!
Looking forward into 2019…
We traditionally kick-off each year on New Year’s Day with a signature event, the Lake Lure Polar Plunge. Folks dress up in funny, creative costumes and run down the beach into the frigid waters of our lake while an audience of family, friends, neighbors and visitor on-lookers cheer them on. Beyond being a fun time, it’s a time for the community to embark on the New Year together. For the “plungers” it’s a promise and commitment kept. For the on-lookers, it’s a time to show support and recognition for those doing it. I think it’s a good community model to follow as we plunge forward together into 2019 to make good on our plans, promises and commitments with support from the on-lookers for those who are “doing it”.
Another significant community event occurred this year on January 1st more quietly and with less fanfare. The MAHEC Family Health Center at Lake Lure transitioned to management by Blue Ridge Health (BRH). Our former mayor, Bob Keith, reports more details about this transition in his column of this Breeze issue (p 6). Bottom line, BRH has committed to the community that this will be a seamless transition that expands the health care services available to patients.
As we enter 2019 we have a renewed commitment and resolve to move forward on our three major critical infrastructure renewal and replacement projects, expecting to accomplish the following during this year:.
- Sewage Collection & Treatment System Replacement: (1) completing concept designs and refined cost estimates; (2) securing NCDEQ approvals of the final Engineering Reports and commitments for expanded project funding assistance, if needed, from the State Revolving Fund and, possibly, other state and/or federal funding assistance sources; (3) completing the final design and bid documents for new collection system and treatment plant.
- Dam Repair and Renovation: (1) completing engineering studies, concept design and a refined cost estimate for the needed improvements; (2) securing NCDEQ-DSO approval of prescribed repairs and renovations; (3) securing project funding assistance commitments from USDA and, possibly other state and federal funding assistance sources; (4) commencing final design and preparation of bid documents for the approved repairs and renovations.
- Lake Dredging: (1) completing the on-going (1 year), seasonal, dredging program to remove approximately 30,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Rocky Broad River inlet channel and its adjacent outfall area; (2) expansion of the Boys Camp Road dewatering and processing site and the closure-removal of stand-by dewatering pits from Morse Park; (3) securing a new, multi-year lake dredging contract that will allow for expanded dredging operations into other areas of the lake and, possibly, for year-round dredging and the use of alternative dredging methods and equipment.
In addition to moving forward on these major, critical infrastructure projects, we intend to accomplish several other important capital projects in 2019 including the following:
- Renovation of the Commercial Strip Center, relocation of the ABC Store to the renovated space and aggressive recruitment of 1-2 additional business tenants to improve and occupy space in the building.
- Rehabilitation or (more likely) replacement of the existing and rapidly-deteriorating (failing) wooden boardwalk that connects the Town Marina to the Town Beach with a temporary, floating aluminum boardwalk that can be incorporated into the future design of the expanded Marina docks complex. (The approved Marina-Beach Expansion Plan proposes a permanent walkway constructed on top of a new masonry, backfilled, seawall structure to permanently replace the existing wooden boardwalk).
- Development of the new Boys Camp Road Riverside Park and Materials Recovery Facility… an innovative, dual-use facility that compatibly co-locates park and recreation amenities (tent camping sites, walking trails, canoe/kayak launch, picnic area and parking) with an expanded dredge material dewatering pit.
- Commencement of Phase 1 improvements to Morse Park to implement the approved Morse Park Master Plan… including the removal of the existing stand-by dredge material dewatering pits along the river shoreline and the use of soils materials that form the dewatering pits enclosure berms to re-grade/re-contour Morse Park for better drainage to facilitate optimum future uses of this park for recreation and event-hosting. New public restrooms will, hopefully, also be constructed in a portion of the existing Visitors Center Building under this Phase 1 improvements program.
While these major and important capital projects are taking place… we’re committed to accomplishing and moving forward on many other important initiatives in 2019 that will sustain and enhance our Town for today and years to come… among these will be:
- Hiring a Parks, Recreational and Lake Management Coordinator.
- Improving cellular phone and broadband internet services throughout the town.
- Working with the NCDOT and NC Parks Department to plan a new (alternate) entrance to Chimney Rock State Park that would traverse through and drive the planning and future development of our Town Center District.
- Partnering with Rumbling Bald Resort to move forward on the “connector road” that would provide an alternate (shorter/quicker) route between RBR and the town’s municipal and commercial corridor and CRV as well as to the Asheville-Hendersonville metropolitan areas located west of Town. It would also provide an alternate ingress-egress route between the east and west sides of the lake and allow faster access by first responders and emergency services.
- Supporting the development of the new senior care (assisted-living) facility located along Buffalo Creek Road near RBR that is expected to break ground later this winter and be completed-opened in late 2019.
I’m sure I’ve left out some items in this article and there will no doubt be numerous additional initiatives and action items that come to light as the year progresses. Unquestionably, this promises to be another extraordinary year for our town. If you’re one of the folks “doing it”, good luck and thank you in advance for your time and energy. If you’re not doing it, please support those who are on your behalf.
Happy New Year!