Raleigh residents claim neighbors, state officials ignoring deteriorating dam

Monday, January 20, 2020
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- This isn't about just fixing an eyesore. Instead, residents living on the other side of the Winchester Lake Dam consider this a matter of life and death.

"Too late is when that dam breaks and the tidal wave comes down the spillway," said Tim Throndson, whose home in North Raleigh sits only a few hundred feet from that spillway. "Water can come across the spillway really quickly, smashing into living rooms and smashing into foundations.

Winchester Lake Dam, officially cataloged as Ammons 210, is one of more than 2,200 privately-owned and maintained dams in North Carolina (there are more than 6,000 total). Some dams are much larger than others, but they all hold a significant amount of water and could pose significant dangers if they were to ever give way.

In fact, there are 1,483 dams considered by the State of North Carolina as "High Hazard", meaning there are roads, infrastructure or buildings located downstream or in proximity to the dam that would be adversely impacted or could cause loss of life if the dam fails.

"Every time there's a significant storm, we think about it and worry about it," Throndson said of Winchester Lake Dam, which to the naked eye looks more like an eroding hill or mud and rocks. "I'm frustrated."

According to the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Winchester Lake Dam is also among a growing list of Deficient Dams. Those are structures identified by state inspectors needing immediate attention from the dam's owners.

According to Throndson - and the DEQ - the people in charge of Winchester Lake have yet to take ownership of their responsibilities.

Winchester Lake, even if it looks more like a pond, falls under the authority of Greystone Village and its Greystone Homeowners Association, a community of some 800 single-family homes. Documents show Greystone obtained the dam through an easement agreement with Parliament Pointe, a smaller neighborhood of about 20 homes where Tim Throndson has been living for more than a decade.

"I've attended board meetings for years and have kept this on the agenda for years and we still can't get the board to act," Throndson said of his community's efforts to fix the dam. "I think Greystone has an engineer that has told them the dam is not an immediate threat. I think Greystone Homeowners Association isn't going to do anything unless they're forced to do something."

The irony, however, is that they are being forced to do something through the Notice of Deficiency which was sent by the DEQ earlier this year. Other documents obtained by the I-Team show communications from state officials for Greystone to hire engineers to develop an Emergency Action Plan, a risk management tool that's even suggested by federal regulations.

Greystone hasn't met any deadlines, and several board members - and the property management company - did not respond to several calls and emails from the ABC11 I-Team.

The DEQ, for its part, has in the past been accused of also lagging in its enforcement. Despite Greystone missing its obligations, the state has yet to issue any fines.

Previous I-Team investigations have highlighted other frustrations among North Carolina residents, including the infamous case of the Woodlake Dam, which nearly breached to devastating consequences during Hurricane Matthew.

Sarah Young, a spokeswoman for the DEQ, told ABC11 the lack of resources and adequate staffing are two key challenges.

"The program has 17.8 full-time employees, spread across eight offices, keeping track of nearly 6,000 dams on inventory and monitoring the 2,579 dams that are currently regulated by the state," Young wrote in an email. "The primary focus of our compliance approach has been to educate the dam owner who is the person responsible and has obligations and liabilities of ownership and operations of their dams."

For Tim Throndson, he said he acknowledges the state's challenges but also wants officials to recognize his predicament: a deteriorating dam won't wait much longer.

"Please take the time to review the case again, to enforce the rules, and protect the citizens who live behind this lake."