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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Dam safety important to Morris
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

By MORRIS STEPHENSON -

Since the beautiful Franklin County Veterans' Memorial Park was dedicated Nov. 11, 2005, I've suggested to Rocky Mount officials that they need to eliminate a dangerous problem at the site.

I know some folks are going to say, "Well, here he goes again" when they read this week's column. However, I feel a repeat of my suggestion is well worth the effort. So today's column is all about the low-head dam on Pigg River that borders the park.

I've talked with several members of council, but so far, I haven't received a clear-cut answer to my question about the status of dam. All I know is that several years ago, council voted to remove the dam with financial support and encouragement from the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In early discussions, the removal project wasn't going to cost the town a penny. Then in the next headline I saw in the N-P relating to the matter, council had voted to spend something like $30,000 as its share of the removal cost.

It should be noted that while all of this discussion about the dam removal was going on, the town's own park commission members let their voices be heard in favor of leaving the dam as it is. I agree with them. The sight and sounds created by the dam have a calming effect and adds to the character of the park, so to speak. Have you ever seen another veterans' park with a river running beside of it?

The topic shifted into high gear in 2009 when two paddlers died months apart in the hydraulic in front of the low-head dam on the Blackwater River near the town's water treatment plant.

After the paddlers' deaths, the town went all out to make the Blackwater dam safer for floaters. Large rip-rap was added in front of the structure, as were access points both above and below the dam. These two places allowed floaters safe passage to walk around the dam.

A large sign warning of the danger ahead was strung above the river. A safety line now runs between two large orange floats, giving paddlers something to grab if they were in trouble. Additional lighting also was installed in the immediate area.

At that time, I suggested the placement of the largest rip-rap available in front of the Pigg River dam.

But engineers advised town officials in May 2010 that removing the dam was the only way to eliminate the safety hazard and improve the aquatic habitat for the endangered Roanoke Logperch fish. The engineers also told council that it would be cheaper for the town to remove the dam than to modify the dam face and stabilize the hydraulic in front of the dam.

But I still believe larger rip-rap than used on the Blackwater project would eliminate the deadly hydraulic and would stay in place.

All these years later, I've yet to question a council member who could tell me when the dam will be removed. In fact, no one I've spoken with has a clue where the project plans stands at this point in time.

About the same time the Blackwater dam was being made safe, the town also placed large "drowning hazard ahead" signs behind the Pigg River Dam at Lynch Park. Also put into place was the same type of "safety rope" across the river with two bright orange floats. A small drowning hazard sign was also erected at the park's dam.

In a conversation with Town Manager James Ervin several years ago at the veterans' park, I suggested the town place railings around the two concrete platforms at the site. I pointed out how a child could fall off the platform and drown in the hydraulic before an adult could save him.

Director Cecil Mason and his outstanding public works department could eliminate that problem in a matter of hours with the railings, and the cost would be next to nothing, I would think.

I have no idea why this has not already been done. There's no doubt Cecil Mason keeps his employees busy, making sure Rocky Mount stays clean and in good shape. A railing project would be a drop in the bucket for those hard-working employees.

So with this being written, I'm going to get off my "soap box" and completely drop this matter. I just hope either the concrete surfaces will be made safer or Fish & Wildlife removes the dam before a youngster becomes the third recreational drowning victim added to a county list that already has two too many names.

Clouds - About all my life, I've been a cloud-watcher of sorts. On a day when the sky is Carolina blue and there are puffy white clouds like cotton candy, I scan the sky. I'm in search of a formation that I can associate with another object, like faces for an example.

I guess I really became a sky watcher when I saw a beautiful rainbow after a summer shower and then drove within a few feet of the "end of the rainbow," which was in the median of I-81 just south of Chilhowie. Years ago, I once saw a newspaper photo of a cloud that strongly resembled the face of Jesus, complete with long hair and beard.

Well last week wife Hazel, her sister, Louise, and I were standing in the parking lot of Randy's Auto Sales. Suddenly Hazel pointed to the sky, exclaiming in an excited voice while pointing upward, "There's a Schnauzer -- there's Victor," and I instantly looked in the direction she was pointing. And sure enough, I saw the head of a Schnauzer, like a close-up photo. There he was in all of the radiant cloud glory complete with the drooping beard, bushy eyebrows and ears, bent halfway. Vic never had his ears clipped so the cloud looked like him even more.

Sometimes I see things I have to "stretch" to make out. Other times, what I see is very obvious, like the head of the devil. Don't even ask because I don't believe it was "a sign" or warning of some type directed at me. I guess everyone at some point in their lives has seen something in a cloud formation.

Sweet Smelling Bait - This weekend, I used small pieces of Juicy Fruit chewing gum as bait and had to resist the urge to save some for myself.

One day last week, I noticed I had some freshly dug ground on a small embankment next to the house. The disturbance in the ground was caused by moles. I tried without luck to determine how they got to that particular small part of the yard at the end of the house. It was like someone had placed them there. I could find no signs of how they had reached the area.

Years ago, someone told me to use Juicy Fruit because the moles loved to eat it and then couldn't digest it and would die. It worked wonders back then and now I'm counting on it to rid my yard of them one more time. I guess I will know in a short period of time if it worked. It sure is easy to poke a hole into their runs and drop some unchewed bait!

Vaseline Works - Cecil Love uses a unique method of getting rid of ants on his hummingbirds' feeders. I used a modified version and it works! I made a small hole in a jar lid and strung it on the wire holding the feeder. Then I coated the inside of the jar cap with Vaseline because, apparently, the ants can't move across it. Well, I didn't want to bother with a jar lid so I put a gob on the wire and it did the job with half the work.

People often ask me how I keep bees from coming to the feeders and that's a problem I haven't solved yet, other than killing the bees with a fly swatter. I'm afraid to use spray, fearing it might harm the birds.

And speaking of the little ones, my numbers have dropped to about 7 since we had those couple of days of fall-like temperatures. They must have mistaken it for departure time, which I find to be about mid-September.

(Editor's Note: In May 2010, Rocky Mount Town

Council asked Anderson & Associates for a briefing on options for improving safety at the Pigg River dam, including the costs and permitting issues. Anderson & Associates provided the principle engineering and permitting assistance for the town's work on the Blackwater River dam at the town's water treatment plant. The firm also did some preliminary engineering work for Franklin County for the dam at Veterans' Park.

Modifying the dam face and stabilizing the hydraulic would reduce, but not eliminate, the safety hazard, according to the engineers. And the benefits for the Roanoke Logperch would be unknown.

This would be the most costly option -- $110,000 to $135,000 -- with no financial assistance or project management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

 
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