After nearly two years of work, repairs at the Vernon Lake spillway have been completed, officials with the Vernon Parish Police Jury announced this week.
The dam experienced heavy damage from Hurricane Harvey’s impact in the area in August 2017, leaving behind damage to both the lake and land side of the embankment near the dam’s spillway, according to officials.
Chairman of the Lake Commission Jason Nolde told the American Press the embankment experienced a crack of 75 to 100 feet in length on the lake side, and another of nearly 200 feet on its opposite side. Both cracks caused large sections of the embankment to slide down into the lake by five to 10 feet.
“While there was never a breach, which was good news, there was still considerable concern that the embankment had weakened,” Nolde said.
A breach of the dam could have threatened areas leading into Anacoco or possibly even further, Nolde said.
Residents living nearby were placed on immediate precautionary notice in case an evacuation was called, and local and state authorities began closely watching the site. That initial watch turned into months of ongoing monitoring until the lake could be let down in order for repairs to begin.
Over the following year, officials with the La. Department of Transportation and Development worked to rebuild the embankment and secure it. In August of this year the drawdown gate was closed, and now Nolde said the parish will let nature take its course in refilling the lake.
“It will take time; between evaporation and absorption it is coming along very slowly, but it will return to its original state once we have some good rains come in,” Nolde said.
The emptying of the lake area threatened not only the property values of homes once labeled as “lake front” properties, but it also threatened one of the area’s most popular fishing locations outside of Toledo Bend. Nolde said despite fears, the draining and ultimately replenishing of the lake could have a very positive outcome.
In addition to valuable nutrients being offered from the bushes and overgrowth that now fill up the lake’s ground, officials with the stateWildlife and Fisheries have pledged to restock the lake once it reaches an acceptable level.
“I know it’s been a long time coming, but I think that in a year’s time this is going to be a very popular spot again,” he said.
While the major repairs are finished, DOTD officials confirmed some minor work still remains to be done at the downside of the lake’s spillway.
DOTD spokesperson Erin Buchanan said that while the timeline for that phase of work is unclear, the funds have been secured and officials are expected to be at the site within the next few weeks to finish those repairs. The repairs will not affect the ability for the lake to begin naturally filling, she said.