Go slow on dam removal

Published 4:43 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Smithfield Town Council has wisely pumped the brakes on plans to decommission the Waterworks Road dam and drain the lake it created and has sustained for more than a century.

The 26-acre Smithfield Lake is a recreational and scenic jewel, a favorite of freshwater anglers known for its largemouth bass and yellow perch. It’s also a convenient place to get away from life’s hustle and bustle for some quiet time with nature. We’d hate to see it go.

The plan, for the moment tabled, to remove the dam relates to increasing maintenance and associated expenses over the past decade. But as Smithfield Times reporter Stephen Faleski has explained in recent reporting, removal would actually be much more expensive — and perhaps trigger environmental problems all the way to the James River and Chesapeake Bay.

Last week, the Town Council also learned that the lake is an important source of water for the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department. Fire Chief Chris Edwards said his department can pump 1,500 gallons per minute using the lake when filling its tankers, but can only get 600 gallons per minute using the town’s fire hydrants west of the Route 10 bypass.

We credit townsfolk for raising questions — and the council for sending the matter back to its Public Works Committee for more discussion.

After Faleski’s story about the proposed dam removal in our Dec. 7 edition, other citizens joined neighboring landowner Randolph Barlow in objecting to the town’s plans.

Hopefully, the town, in reconsidering the matter, will deem the dam’s maintenance to be a manageable but necessary expense, just like most public-works projects that benefit the citizenry. If the town sticks with making a monetary case for removing the dam and lake, it needs to provide a thorough accounting for public inspection, then hold a public hearing to hear from citizens.