Some Burlco dams damaged in '04 still in limbo

In Medford Lakes in 2004, Lower Aetna Lake and Upper Aetna Lake (in background) were in bad shape after dams failed. Nine years later, the status many dams in Burlington County is still in question.
In Medford Lakes in 2004, Lower Aetna Lake and Upper Aetna Lake (in background) were in bad shape after dams failed. Nine years later, the status many dams in Burlington County is still in question. (MICHAEL PLUNKETT / File Photograph)
Posted: August 17, 2013

Nine years after torrential rains pummeled Burlington County's lake region, most of the 46 earthen dams that buckled under the onslaught and turned roads into rivers have been repaired.

That's comforting news as rainfall records are shattered this summer and the ground is becoming overly saturated.

But some of these dams are still in limbo, with two deemed unsatisfactory and eight classified as in "poor condition," according to data provided to The Inquirer by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The most prevalent deficiency is the "inadequate spillways" in these dams, said Bob Considine, a DEP spokesman. The water-release structures are a critical part of the dam that controls flooding.

The unsatisfactory dams are the Kenilworth Lake Dam No. 3 in Evesham and the Upper Stokes Dam in Medford Township. They were both damaged when the 1,000-year storm struck on July 12, 2004, dumping 13 inches of rain in an area along the Rancocas Creek and swelling the tributaries.

In all, 18 dams burst and 28 others were damaged.

At the time, the DEP reported that many of the dams were not in compliance with safety standards. The DEP said it had issued warnings to the dam owners for decades but had not been heeded.

Kenilworth No. 3, in a wooded section beneath Flamingo Road, a dirt pathway, is not an immediate hazard because the adjacent lake has been drained pending repairs. Still, the DEP has ordered the dam to be rebuilt.

The Upper Stokes Dam also is not an immediate concern, officials said, because its lake was ordered to be lowered by two feet.

Jeff Wagner, Medford's emergency management coordinator, said the private lake is off a small dirt road and consists of only a few acres.

Even so, the DEP has classified it as a dam that could cause significant property loss if breached because there are houses downstream.

"We continue to monitor the situation," Wagner said.

The dams listed as in poor condition include a second at Kenilworth Lake; the Union Mill Lake Dam in Evesham; the Bayberry Street Dam in Pemberton Township; the Batsto Lake Dam in Washington Township; the Sooy Dam in Woodland Township; the Old Forge Lake Dam in Southampton; the Quoque Dam in Medford Lakes; and the Mimosa Lake Dam in Medford Township.

Many of these were issued permits for repairs, while some were repaired but still have spillway and structural issues.

Since the 2004 storm, the DEP has taken court action to enforce the regulations against at least one dam owner who did not make repairs for decades. But the process has been slow.

The DEP sued the owners of the three Kenilworth Lake dams. The dams are now in the hands of a court-appointed receiver who is in charge of rebuilding them.

The main dam off Kenilworth Road, Dam 1, is being rebuilt and plans are being made for the other two to be reconstructed.

The main dam was not breached by the storm but the DEP ordered it to be taken down and the lake to be drained until it could be reconstructed.

"The lake was lowered to prevent catastrophic loss," said J. Llewellyn Mathews, the receiver. The reconstruction, he said, is expected to be finished this fall. After that, the lake will be allowed to refill.


Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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