After 20 Years, Decision Likely for Brentwood Today Lake

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Nearly two years after the dam breached and the lake emptied, Raleigh City Councilors are leaning toward restoring the former Brentwood Today Lake into a stream.

Members of the Public Works Committee voted 2 to 1 on Tuesday in favor of a stream restoration project at the site, which has been a point of City Council discussion and debate for nearly 20 years.

Councilor and committee member John Odom said he believed the city should restore the lake to its former state, something that has been promised for the past two decades. He voted against the project, but said the stream restoration is a good option.

The full Council is expected to vote on the issue at its July 1 meeting.

Restoring the lake to a stream will cost between $750,000 to $1 million. A complete lake restoration is estimated to cost about $1.96 million.

Money for the project had been previously set aside, but the deadline to get the work underway is quickly approaching.

The dam began to fail in the mid 1990s and finally breached in March 2012. The lake emptied and the area began to reestablish itself into a wetland.

brentwood lake breach

A slide from a staff presentation given in 2012

Project Manager Veronica High said the city has three years from the time of the breach to treat the project as a repair. After that, it’s considered a new project and the required permits from the Army Corps of Engineers are harder to get. The city currently has the permits needed to start a repair project, “but they’re getting close to expiring and we’re up against that three year window,” said High.

Since the breach, sediment has been depositing downstream in Beamon Lake. If the sediment continues, “It’s going to require periodic dredging of that lake,” said Public Works Director Carl Dawson. Restoring the stream would reduce the sediment deposits.

Lake Ownership Woes

Raleigh is dotted with private lakes that were often created as amenities and for flood control for the surrounding neighborhoods. The surrounding homeowners are, in most cases, responsible for its care and upkeep.

Brentwood Today Lake continues to be owned by Smada Construction Company, which has since gone out of business. The heirs to the business said that they no longer want to own the lake and would like to transfer it to the homeowners, the city or a conservation group.

Lakeside homeowners have been working for more than two years to create an association that would take on ownership, but supporters haven’t been able to get all of the property owners on board.

Odom, who represents the district where the lake is located, said previous City Councils have been promising they were going to take over ownership of the lake and the dam since 1994.

The city, however, has had a long-standing policy against taking on the liability and expense that come with the ownership of private lakes.

Since the lakes and the dams that created them often go without regular maintenance, the city uses stormwater utility fees to repair dams, spillways and any public roads that run along them. While the city will take on the responsibility and ongoing maintenance of the dam infrastructure that it replaces or repairs, the lakes themselves continue to be the responsibility of the homeowners.

During a 2012 Public Works Committee meeting Councilor Thomas Crowder said he didn’t want to use public resources for a private amenity and only agreed to do so if the city could build a park and a trail.

City Responsibility Likely

High said since Smada no longer wants to hold ownership interests to the lake, its heirs are unwilling to provide the easements necessary to do the work. Easements would give the city access to the property to do the work, but the responsibility continues to remain with the original property owners.

In order for the city to begin work on the stream restoration project, the city will need to take the easements through eminent domain. Deputy City Attorney Francis Rasberry told committee members that once the land is condemned, the city would take on long-term liability and maintenance.

“Knowing the history of this, that’s the way we would have to do it,” said Odom.

Condemnation, which would need to be approved by the full Council, requires the expense of a court process. “Why would we go to court and pay money for an easement and still not get free from the responsibility of maintaining it in the future,” said Deputy City Attorney Ira Botvinick.

In keeping with city policy, Councilors Eugene Weeks and Wayne Maiorano agreed to go with staff’s recommendation to restore the lake into a stream, which could result in condemnation proceedings.

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