VASS TOWNSHIP, North Carolina (WTVD) -- Shovels haven't hit the ground yet, but this is a crucial step to make it happen.
State officials on Wednesday formally accepted engineering plans to build a temporary breach in the dam, thereby allowing a constant flow of water in the case of a major flooding event. The design could also leave a solid foundation to fully rebuild the dam in the future.
READ THE APPROVAL LETTER FROM THE STATE (.pdf)
The ABC11 I-Team, which uncovered a history of negligence and lack of enforcement leading to the dam's demise, has been tracking the saga through court documents to validate the dam's owners' adherence to a judge's order signed on March 15.
Under the terms of the order, Woodlake Corp. Vice President Julie Watson - and Woodlake's other primary owner, Illya Steiner of Hamburg, Germany - had until April 10 (25 days from March 15 to share with the NC Department of Environmental Quality firm engineering plans to build a temporary breach in the dam.
CLICK HERE TO READ A LETTER TO RESIDENTS
The DEQ rejected an earlier proposal submitted on April 10.
Officials concede this would not permanently fix the dam, but it does negate any danger should there be another major rain event in the near future. Construction on those must begin within 60 days (May 15) - and completed within 105 days (July 1), just in time for hurricane season.
Also as part of the court order, Woodlake has been submitting weekly updates to state officials with documented progress. An email to the Department of Environmental Quality obtained by the I-Team, dated April 4, says "Allied surveying is planning on starting the site survey tomorrow (Wednesday, 4/5/2017). The area around the spillway will be surveyed first. Preliminary analysis of the hydrology and hydraulics for the project and layout for the breach design is in progress."
A lawyer for the Attorney General's office told the ABC11 I-Team the new order, which was negotiated by the state with Watson, is "aggressive but reasonable." The attorney also promised the state would report any violation immediately to the judge, and penalties would include time in jail.
"Our priority has always been the safety of the communities living downstream," DEQ spokeswoman Bridget Munger told the ABC11 I-Team last month. "I can absolutely say with certainty that we will be watching very closely. We will be monitoring the situation. We have boots on the ground, people in the Fayetteville region who routinely do inspections who will be out there checking."
The Woodlake development, first built in the 1970s, has roughly 700 homes, two golf courses (only one functional), the dam (broken) and lake (drained). Property owners have been livid with the lack of communication from Watson, and the development's reluctance and/or willful ignorance to fix the dam.
"For anyone living on a lake or contemplating living on a lake - you can wind up in the same situation," David Watterson, a Woodlake resident and co-chair of the Restore Woodlake Committee, told ABC11 last month. "It can happen to anybody, especially if dams are privately owned."
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State OKs temporary breach of Woodlake dam