State-owned dams being renovated

Pictured at Hearns Pond Dam Monday morning are, left to right, dam safety engineer David Twing, senior bridge engineer Barry Benton, Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis, Hearns Pond Association chair Karin D’Armi-Hunt, Rep. Daniel Short of Seaford and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control David Small. (Submitted photo/Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control)

Pictured at Hearns Pond Dam Monday morning are, left to right, dam safety engineer David Twing, senior bridge engineer Barry Benton, Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis, Hearns Pond Association chair Karin D’Armi-Hunt, Rep. Daniel Short of Seaford and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control David Small. (Submitted photo/Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control)

SEAFORD — Until 2009, Delaware did not have minimum regulations for dams, a fact readily apparent eight years earlier when a fierce storm struck Hearns Pond Dam.

Water poured out of the Seaford-area pond, causing heavy damage as the dam’s southern portion was completed wiped out.

Residents at a health care center had to be moved until water levels went down.

The dam was rebuilt, but in 2006, the same thing happened.

The spillway at Hearns Pond Dam. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

The spillway at Hearns Pond Dam. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

Now, two Delaware departments are working to strengthen all 42 state-owned dams, a process that may not be completed until the end of this century.

But it is one that will be well worth it, officials said Monday.

Gathered by Hearns Pond Dam in the morning, with the heat already nearing oppressive levels, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Department of Transportation detailed the very first renovation project.

“This will be the first state-owned dam that will meet the dam safety regulations,” DelDOT senior bridge engineer Barry Benton said.

Built to mill grain, the dam has existed in its current form for about 100 years, although portions have been rebuilt over the years.

The location is, according to DNREC, the seventh most popular spot for pond fishing in the state.

The dam was closed in May and is expected to re-open about nine months from now.

The spillway — where water flows out of and into another waterway located on the other side of the dam — will be expanded from 12 feet to 95 feet in width, allowing the dam to handle much heavier rainfalls. Portions of the dam that now consist of earth will be covered in concrete and topped off by soil and grass, strengthening the barrier.

A poster shows images of past damage at Hearns Pond Dam. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

A poster shows images of past damage at Hearns Pond Dam. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

A new walkway and boat ramp are also forthcoming.

“These dams have been around a couple of hundred years, and the folks that built them used whatever material they had. Probably not the best engineering or the right material that you would want to use to build a dam, and so we’ve learned a lot through this process, very well-educated, and I am happy to say … this is how government’s supposed to work,” DNREC Secretary David Small said.

“It just so happens that DelDOT might be able to bring a little bit more money to the table than we can but sharing resources, working together to address priorities, to make sure that the people are safe and that we are making a systematic investment in our infrastructure around this state, just like DelDOT does with roads and bridges, this is part of our natural infrastructure. These dams are an important part of the landscape up and down the state. They provide recreational opportunities, they protect property and roadways.”

A total of $1.5 million was included in this year’s bond bill to allow the two agencies to address Hearns Pond Dam. The renovation carries a cost of $4.2 million.

“I don’t think anybody can argue that this is No. 1,” Mr. Benton said of the dam’s ranking on the priority list.

While the departments each own some dams, they plan to collaborate to repair them and are hoping to work on one every other year. Records Pond in Laurel is scheduled to be the next work site.

Delaware was the second-to-last state to add dam safety regulations, according to Mr. Small.

Of course, as officials indicated Monday, better late than never.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.