It is hard to understand why several Scott County magistrates are so determined to keep the low-head dam at Great Crossing. So determined, there have been discussions for the county to purchase the dam from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The future of the dam reached a fevered pitch following a drowning last May. A kayaker got caught in high, rapid water and first responders were unable to pull him from the fast-moving waters.
At the county’s request the state examined the dam and found it was deteriorating. Low-head dams are considered dangerous because water cycles from top to bottom, so someone caught in the current will either be pushed towards the surface or pulled below. Debris gathers at the base of the dam, so if someone is pulled downward, they are also likely to get caught and held underwater.
There have been several public hearings on the topic, and state officials have indicated there are only three options: remove the dam at the state’s cost; repair the dam or leave it alone. State fish and wildlife officials have indicated there is no funding for repairing the dam, and if the county wants to leave it alone, it can be bought from the state and then the county would assume full responsibility.
Many locals are concerned about irrigation if the dam is removed, especially during drought conditions, and many fear other local dams will soon be removed as well. Many people also feel the dam is a landmark that should be protected.
Nationally, there is a movement to remove dams, such as the one at Great Crossing. The reasons for removal offered by fish and wildlife experts is the cost of maintaining the dams, and the dams are no longer providing appropriate benefits such as hydropower, flood control, and irrigation when compared to the costs. There are also inherent dangers near dams.
The Great Crossing dam is deteriorating, and at some point it will either fail or repairs will be needed. The cost for such repairs will be expensive. The dam could remain as is for a few months, a few years or even a few decades, but there is now proof the dam is not in good condition and needs repairs. If the county “purchases” the dam from the state, it assumes full responsibility for its repair, its upkeep and if another tragedy occurs.
Leaving the dam as is may be a dangerous gamble.
The waterway is not going away, and state officials say the recreation element will improve and irrigation remains even with the dam removed.
There is some local suspicion of the state officials, but several of those officials who have spoken about this project live in Scott County and have no obvious ulterior motive other than suggesting what is best for the community.
At some point we have to begin trusting the science again, and the experts we have working on our behalf.
If the county moves ahead with the purchase of the dam at Great Crossing, it could prove to be a grave and costly error in judgement.