East Lexington's Dam

Main discussion area is here. Reply to a message to continue a discussion thread, or create your own new Topics.

Should the East Lexington low-head dam be removed within 5 years?

Total votes: 40

Wise One

East Lexington's Dam

Postby Wise One » 2007 Jul 09 08:56

I've heard all the arguments and it seems to me that, all things considered, we are served best by planning to remove this dam.

Low-head dams like this one are killing machines to be sure, and there are other reasons to wish it away.

It alters the river unnaturally, eliminating significant natural values in one of the few good rivers we have left. It presents an impossible barrier to in-stream movement of aquatic life, raises a large area of near-stagnant water, elevates water temperature, and alters the ecology in many ways that are unfavorable to natural populations.

Dam defenders say "Leave it as it's always been," a truly shortsighted view, since for most of time it was not there at all. It no longer serves the milling purpose for which it was built, and does nothing to regulate stream surges.

There are ponds and lakes aplenty in the region for those who like to float in motionless water. We need not kill a natural river just to make one more pond -- let's take this stake out of the heart of our priceless Maury River.
Last edited by Wise One on 2007 Jul 09 12:46, edited 2 times in total.


Postby harleygrl35 » 2007 Jul 09 10:33

I'm kinda wading the middle on this one. While I see the viewpoints on keeping the dam as it's been, one can't turn a blind eye to the fact that this damn has taken lives.

I think in weighing the pros and the cons if the cost of keeping it is human lives, it really needs to go. Though I could argue that as a parent, my child will be warned about what could happen by going in the water there. Though I'm not stupid enough to think that when he gets older all the things I warn him of will just be temptations..

User avatar
Posts: 713
Joined: 2007 Jun 11 03:51

Postby Juggler » 2007 Jul 19 07:25

Love the metaphor, "wading!"

I'll wade in myself, after thinking long and hard. This is a toughie, because I have spent many hours fishing from a boat, upriver from the dam. I enjoyed it, but have to admit that its really just a lake where there used to be the kind of river that runs through Goshen Pass.

And, to me, that kind of natural river beats the present dammed river hands-down. Add the real chance of reducing drowning deaths among kids who may be foolish (aren't all kids foolish from time to time?), and I vote Yes, remove the dam.


Postby ChuckVolpe » 2007 Aug 20 03:54

I was invited to this forum based on the fact that my son Charles died at that dam.

There are many local arguments to let it remain, many more to take it out. Most who want it to remain think it is an antique. What is does ecologically to the river is a shame. The paddlers like because it gives them a nice long stretch of flat water. There are many lakes nearby for that. When Jordan's Point was being planned, several of the Planners went to the City and suggested a safety system for the boaters because of the hideous dangers that existed in certain water conditions. They declined the system because of budget issues. If you didn't know the river and put in at Beans Bottom, you would be in for a big surprise as you approached Jordan's Point. There were no signs above the dam until I lobbied for them after Charles died. There were no signs period except for a portage sign 50 yards past the dam.

The City denied ownership of the dam, but accepted the fact that they might have to put safety buoys up. They invited you into the water 95 feet above the dam, with ten minutes of research would have known that this was the worst kind of menace on any river. The were told this by a certain group of planners who understood what a low-head dam could do to a canoe or kayak.

Because of the dam, underwater structures (downed trees mostly) were stuck above the dam causing a serious hazard to swimmers evidenced by the two Back boys who drowned upstream under the rope swing a few years back. Their great uncle fell prey to a water release at Goshen and was mowed down below the dam as the mini tsunami crested the dam and knocked him off his feet and tumbled him to death while he was fishing with his brother.

And yet still I fight alongside Bill Blatter going through one bureaucratic motion after another trying to get to a place where we can get a permit to remove it. The funds are available after a bit of hoop jumping. Goodlatte has been a friend through this and has made himself available to help. Webb on the other hand didn't return 6 phone calls, 10 emails, and three letters. Ben Cline helped me last year get a bill passed into law which is a start in getting these dams removed statewide.

Other states take a much more proactive approach. They are tired of fishing bodies out of their rivers. Many times losing their swift water rescue team members in the process. This is a great website to visit loaded with low-head information.

Kids have been diving off that dam forever. It is much safer than being washed over, because you escape the hydraulics below it. In Charles' case the water currents that day were very tricky. He was an accomplished diver with seven NAUI certifications. If he couldn't determine that the currents were bad, a novice certainly wouldn't have a clue.
We need to support the removal, encourage the City Council to move swiftly before it happens again, and help and support Bill Blatter with this. Except for me and Andy Wolfe, he is on his own. All the City sees is $$$$ being spent and no return.

I see a safe swift water park which would bring people to Lex/Rock. It would bring dollars to the community and turn something dangerous into something safe. I know guys, it's not a gift shop, but it might work! Here is a website of a dam removal in TX which did this and it is very successful. There are more that two dozen in the country and they are getting great responses from kayakers and canoeists.

Also, the Memorial Scholarship fund we set up in Charles' name has collected about $65,000 and has sent this summer three teens to Seatrek in Tortola. It is a wonderful diving, sailing, & marine biology camp which Charles loved. Have a look. Let me know if you would like to help with fund raising. Peace.

Paul Baker

Postby Paul Baker » 2007 Aug 20 10:38

There is absolutely no need for this structure in the River. The simple fact that it has taken lives is enough to get rid of it. Don't tell me there isn't any money to do it.
Paul Baker


Postby harleygrl35 » 2007 Aug 20 10:45

First of all Chuck, let me say how sorry I am for your loss. I have heard so many wonderful things about your son Charles, and imagine that he couldn't have been the fine young man that I've heard of, if not for wonderful parenting. Being a mother of two myself, I cannot begin to imagine your grief.

As I stated in my post, I've been a little torn about the removal of the dam, but I have asked the question..how many lives does the dam have to take before something is done? I really don't have the answers to what needs to happen. But I do know that if the bottom line is, Dam gone = lives saved, then it needs to go.

Posts: 35
Joined: 2007 Aug 20 11:01

Preaching to the Choir??

Postby needler » 2007 Aug 20 11:43

It appears that everyone on this forum feels the damn dam must go; reasons cited? One death is too many, so let's dump the thing. Arguments to keep it? Specious, sentimental and ultimately pointless. There can be NO argument which justifies "wellllll, we've ONLY lost a couple of kids (or fishermen, or boaters) and we don't REALLY have the cash to do anything about it". Bottom line? Putting ALL other considerations aside, does the City of Lexington have the cash lying around to pay for the lawsuits that are going to come in? The liability insurer for the City will find the exit really quickly if this happens again ......the City KNOWS the dam is a killer, and has done nothing to clear up the problem. It's the same thing as having a swimming pool in a yard with no fence. Attractive nuisances attract children; children (by definition) are NOT adults and don't process the way "adults" do. Children dying?? NOT ACCEPTABLE ON ANYONE'S WATCH.

To those nay sayers who cry "tradition", "history" or somesuch foolishness, the reply can only be "so?". While remembering tradition and history, we should remember things only get better if one learns from the past and then does it better the next time.

It is time we learned from the past, got on with making it better, and tear the damn thing down.

NOW all we have to do is assemble more than this choir and get everyone in this county to look forward long enough to get rid of this particular attractive nuisance and save lives. As I said at the first town meeting at which the dam was discussed, I daresay that if one of the children or grandchildren of one of the council's members had died on that dam, it would be gone by now.



Postby harleygrl35 » 2007 Aug 20 15:07

Well said needler! The county of Rockbridge has plenty of historical sights, I really don't think tearing the dam out is going to affect tourism! True that everyone for the dam going needs to continue to speak out, but honestly, I've lived in this area my entire life, and I really don't think the "little people" in this community have a voice..


San Marcos Rio Vista River

Postby AndyLee » 2007 Aug 20 17:59

The very idea that we are even discussing this a year and a half after Charles' drowning is sad. We could be so much farther along in the dam conversion than we are right now.

It's unfortunate that sometimes awful things have to happen before a governmental body will take action. San Marcos, TX, is a leader in rapid and positive response to a dam problem. Here's the article about the incident that started the whole Rio Vista dam conversion back in 2004. It's a story about a mother and her boyfriend endangering the lives of her two children by swimming them through the dam break and into a hydraulic.

In this instance, nobody died, but the City of San Marcos still took action by closing the dam and searching out an engineer and construction company to do the dam conversion.

Lexington has done a good job in marking the Jordan Point dam with buoys, signs and a floating barrier. Lexington also did a good job re-building the overlook, although it is a bit unsettling to stand on the overlook and stare at the place where Charles died. The City also did a good job in relocating the canoe ramp to a safer place upstream and opening a driveway to get to it. All these things didn't happen quickly or all at once, but they are done and the river is safer because of them. For that I personally want to thank the City, and give them credit for the work they have done. My sense is they want to fix the dam as much as we do, but it does seem that the wheels of government are turning very slow in this instance.

I am one of the many who love the lake above Jordan Point Dam. I canoe there evenings after work and hold canoe and kayak classes there. I would be sad if the lake disappeared. It doesn't have to. By doing a project similar to the one in San Marcos we can have the lake, create a white water play park, and eliminate forever the danger of the dam hydraulic.

San Marcos spent $2.4 million on their dam, which was much larger and in dangerous disrepair. My hope is that Jordan Point dam can be converted for a fraction of that.

By the way, the Lions Club in San Marcos (pop. 35,000) has a concession to rent tubes for trips through the new Rio Vista Falls. In a typical weekend they will rent 2000 tubes. That's pretty remarkable, to go from a dangerous eyesore to a white water park that people are flocking to play in.

The Rio Vista River and the Maury River have very similar stream flows, averaging about 150 cubic feet per second. This amount of water will make a very fine white water play spot.

My hope is that soon we can have a white water park where the dam now stands, and we can go up on the new overlook and watch the kids playing safely in the waves. I'm yearning very much for that to happen, the sooner the better.

How can we help move this project forward?

Andy Lee


Postby nonova » 2007 Aug 21 13:21

I used to fish off of the old dam as a kid back in 1968. I now take my son there to fish although not sitting or standing "on" the dam. I too am very sorry for the life that was lost there. Nothing can replace that , but tearing the dam down is not the answer. What about the 2 kids that died up the river from the dam. They were no where near the dam and they drowned. Do we drain the river? Did anyone mention anything about the dam or draining the river then? NO.
I think if these kids, that went over the dam, would have used their heads and would not have been challenging the dam, Charles would be here with his friends today. I again, feel sorry for the loss of anyone, especially a child. Please don't think I am not sympathic for the family and friends because I am. I am reminded of their loss each time I go to the point and see the flowers and bench put up in Charles' honor and memory.
The dam is an antique but so am I. This is only my opinion. Don't tear the dam down.


Time for action

Postby Yates » 2007 Aug 21 17:57

Others on this site have well-stated the many sound reasons for removing this dam, including saving lives, restoring the range for fish to spawn, and providing a natural, unfettered river for water sports.

Although I left Lexington to return to live in Charlottesville, Lexington remains dear to me, as does Charles, who was my student at the Montessori Center for Children for several years. Charles lives on in a special place in the hearts of those who knew and loved him -- he was a gift in our lives. I hope that one of his legacies will be sparking the consciousness and the will needed to prevent further loss of life and to restore the Maury to its natural state, by removing the dam. Charles so loved nature and all of life --- may he be commemorated in this dynamic, enduring way -- a way that he will continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

I do hope that the citizens of Lexington -- a proud, humane and affluent city -- will join together and give priority to the effort to remove the dam at Jordan Point. Kudos to Chuck and Bill for leading the way, and to all of you who are supporting this project.

A word of encouragement: Charlottesville has just removed the Woolen Mills Dam from the Rivanna River. May Lexington follow suit soon! All best wishes for making the Maury safe for Lexington and its visitors.


Nonova - read my post above

Postby ChuckVolpe » 2007 Aug 21 19:18

The boys that drowned upstream drowned in a structure below the water stuck there because of the dam. It was a tree that otherwise would have washed on down the river. The younger Back boy got stuck in it and his older cousin approached him from the front to try to release him. Panic struck the younger boy and he wouldn't let go of the older boy and they both drown. Indirectly related. I would say yes. A rumor started that they were struck by lightning to take the pressure off of any investigation. They had water in their lungs and no evidence of a lightning strike. This is a drowning. What about their great uncle who was knocked down while fishing and drowned because some one let water go at Goshen without any warning. The dam was responsible for the huge wave that struck him and knocked him into the backwash current and killed him. That was the dam's responsibility, not his.

How did Charles challenge the river? Go for a swim? Who knew of the dangers of the low-head dam in certain and only certain water conditions? Did you? I bet not. Obviously not if you sat on it and fished.

Sir, I have been to Dam College and I know more about these structures than most humans walking the earth. If you think that there is one good reason to chance the death of another human being only because you have some memory of fishing from it now or back in the old days, well sir, wake up and smell the coffee. These structures are being yanked out of rivers as fast as humanly possible. They are bad for the environment, they serve absolutely no purpose, they stop fish from migrating, they can breach and wipe out property, livestock, and human life downstream, and sir...one day that antique dam might take your best friend.

Posts: 35
Joined: 2007 Aug 20 11:01

Balancing act?

Postby needler » 2007 Aug 21 21:27

To Nonova....let's see.....why don't we try for a balance here? On the one side we have lives (PLURAL, I might add) lost and on the other side of the scale we have fond memories of fishing.......hmmm.....that's a real toughie, but I think I know which side wins my vote.

GOOD GRIEF! How on earth can we NOT tear the thing down? Lowhead dams have a lousy track record for efficiency, do NO river any good, AND kill people, just as an aside...what sort of argument can be made to keep it? I am stunned and appalled by the "argument" that we should keep this foul thing because it "brings back fond memories". Having grown up in the south, I remember "whites only" signs all over town......things past are not necessarily good things....the dam is NOT a good thing. Please, nonova, go take a picture of the dam, blow it up, frame it and gaze fondly at it, but don't think it's a good thing for this city to keep it around.



Postby ChuckVolpe » 2007 Aug 22 03:20

Well needler - I never quite heard it put that way, but it's true - and as my young friend Cassie (15 at the time) said at the Council meeting to a pair of octogenarians, who were discussing saving this building and that building - she asked - "did any of those building every kill anybody?" The answer was obvious. I remember as a kid going into the Orange Bowl in Miami shocked by the "colored" bathrooms and drinking fountains - I guess they also qualified as antiques. Let's move on and do something positive here that is safe, makes money for the community and does a good thing for the river. I am sure there are a hundred stories about people fishing down there. Hey Nonova, didn't it stink down there as it was a sewage treatment plant. Maybe we should have saved that as well.

Wise One

Postby Wise One » 2007 Aug 22 10:59

My posting started this topic thread so you can imagine how pleased I am to see how it has developed, illuminating many facets of an important local problem. I'm particularly grateful that Chuck Volpe somehow found us and that he has given us first-hand insight from his standpoint as the perhaps the world's most reluctant and yet best expert in this matter.

As a result of the discussion here, I've learned more about the issue, its pros and cons, and feel that my own position in favor of removing the dam has been strengthened, in part by reviewing carefully the links Chuck helpfully posted.

We must cause this dam to be removed. Governments always plead poverty, yet also find the means somehow to do what they must do. Perhaps a staged removal over time, by segments, of the dam is possible -- preserving a small and safe portion as a monument that explains the dam's bittersweet history?

:help2: Let's git 'er done. :help2:


Postby harleygrl35 » 2007 Aug 22 13:34

nonova, speaking from a mother's standpoint, my son will never fish, swim or enjoy any activity at or around Jordons Point as long as there is danger from that dam. The fact is regardless of what we teach our children, at some point they are going to veer from the path we'd like them to follow.

If this had been your son, I think you'd have a very different opinion. Being a parent yourself do you not actively try to ensure your childs safety at every turn? Although when taking him to fish there you are not allowing him to sit or stand on the dam, do you truly think the day will never come that he may not try to test those waters there? Don't be over confident. As I said, I'm not fool enough to think my child will never test any of the waters I've taught him not to wade in.

It's far too late to even second guess whether or not this dam should be left intact. It was too late after the first loss of life due to the dangers of the dam.

Posts: 35
Joined: 2007 Aug 20 11:01

Postby needler » 2007 Aug 22 14:05

Wise One, harleygirl35 and ChuckVolpe...I apologize for losing it, but I have a great deal of difficulty discussing something that should be obvious. It's kind of a Homer Simpson "doh" moment for me.

Sure, the things we WANT to remember about our childhoods are great (maybe not so great if viewed objectively), and we wish good memories for our children and grandchildren. The things that we remember are not the things the kids will remember. They have a storehouse of their own to fill. The fishing was the memory, the dam WAS NOT the memory, The same memories can be created at any fishing spot, so WHY is it necessary to retain a killing ground for a memory of catching a fish? Why can't that memory be created in another spot? The answer, of course, is that it can be, and is.....all the time! So apologies for the rants. I can think of no argument that justifies the existence of that dam. Memories, fish, boating, tradition (we've already gone down THAT road!), blah, blah, blah..all that means nothing when lives are in danger. And thanks, harleygirl for remembering the point of all this.......if Charles had been nonova's child, or the child of anyone on the Lexington council, the dam would be history already!

Hope all have a great weekend, and that none of you melt. I have to give my blood pressure a rest now........heat AND high blood pressure...lousy combination!



Postby harleygrl35 » 2007 Aug 22 14:33

needler, no need to apologize to me, I can understand your frustration! Have a great week!


No apologies from me...

Postby ChuckVolpe » 2007 Aug 22 22:23

I will not apologize for my comments as they are real and I back them up with facts.

I lost my first son. Not to a drunk driver, not to an overdose, not to a gang fight, not to a "drive by" shooting, not to cancer, not to a car accident...not to straight A's, not to playing JV Baseball, not to getting every diving certification possible at age 16, not to being inducted to the National Honor Society or playing alto sax in the Jazz Band...not to being my best friend.

No, he died swimming where hundreds have gone before, not understanding the dangers that existed there at the dam. Google it - go ahead - Google "low-head dam" Good luck - see if you can keep a dry eye as you read about the tragedies that have occurred at these monsters.

Dead kids, dead adults, dead swift water rescuers - it doesn't care who it sucks to the bottom, spins like a washing machine until dead. and holds to the bottom until someone figures out a way to retrieve the body. That's all that's left. And if they belong to you, your only hope is that they were unconscious when they were taken down. Peace.

User avatar
Posts: 713
Joined: 2007 Jun 11 03:51

Postby Juggler » 2007 Aug 23 10:54

Frustration can lead to remarkable things. Imagine 200 people showing up at Jordan's Point when the river is at low water, sledge hammers in hand to commit an act of civil disobedience -- dismantling the dam themselves ?!?
:laugho: "Dam" starts with "D", and that rhymes with "B", and that stands for "Berlin Wall"-- right here in River City.