Sunday, March 30, 1997
Falmouth dam plans dusted off
Flood revives dormant idea for Licking River control

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - If Falmouth wants to pursue the creation of a dam or other flood prevention measures, it will need the support of residents far beyond Pendleton County boundaries.

Those who worked on the many failed plans for dams and the creation of a lake system to contain tributaries along the Licking River say the project can't happen without the backing of property owners and communities upriver.

''They're going to have to go beyond Falmouth and the Pendleton County community to build support for the resolution of this problem,'' former Democratic state senator Joe Meyer said.

Once chairman of the now defunct Licking River Basin Task Force, Mr. Meyer watched as the most recent flood-control proposal - to build as many as 30 lakes and dams - was sunk by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1990.

''It's not just cost,'' Mr. Meyer said. ''There has always been a lot of opposition from people upstream.''

Back when a dam on the Licking River was close to becoming reality, tobacco was king.

Whether the proposal was for a single dam or a system of dams, farmers and property owners who would lose land to lakes were able to garner more support than those in Pendleton County.

''People in Cynthiana and Harrison County were violently opposed to it because of all the land it would take out of production,'' former Republican state senator Art Schmidt said. ''It just bugged the heck out of me that we couldn't get it.''

The project seemed most likely to happen in 1984, when then-U.S. Rep. Gene Snyder got the House of Representatives to allocate $125 million to build a dam.

But the plan never made it past the Senate. And without the support of Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins, Mr. Snyder and Falmouth Mayor Max Goldberg decided to end their fight.

Flood aftermath

In the wake of the Licking River's March 1 attack on Falmouth - the most devasting disaster to hit this city - talk of a dam has started again.

Local officials say if pursued, it would be for recreational, hydro-electric, water supply and flood protection purposes - not as a short-term fix.

Support is growing for moving most of the city to higher ground, with consideration given later to a dam.

''I've had people want me to go back to Washington and get money for the dam again,'' Mr. Goldberg said. ''I've worked for 25 years on this dam and I don't feel like going through that again unless there is the support we need.''

It may be there.

Sen. Wendell Ford, a Democrat, has pledged his support and sent his representative, Jan Gerding Celella, to deliver his message to local officials.

Dave York, spokesman for Rep. Jim Bunning, said the Southgate Republican is trying to figure out what can be done and is willing to do everything within reason.

''One of the problems is virtually every alternative imaginable has been studied for the area,'' Mr. York said. ''It's tough to find one that provides substantial benefit without substantial cost.''

New look warranted

And state Sen. Gex ''Jay'' Williams, R-Verona, said a dam is something that needs to be looked at. ''It would depend on where it goes, who would be impacted and what the trade-offs are,'' said Mr. Williams, who represents Pendleton County. ''No matter what is decided you really feel for these folks. We need to make some quick decisions so people can get out of limbo.''

Cynthiana - where much of the opposition came from - now is in dire need of potable water, as is Lexington.

Lakes created by a Falmouth dam would supply plenty to quench thirsts and provide recreational opportunities for thousands of Kentucky residents.

''Tobacco is no longer king,'' Falmouth city councilman Jeff Carson said. ''We're not looking at a dam just as a stopgap for this little community.''

But that's just the idea that has blocked the project in the past.

In the 1970s the Corps of Engineers reviewed the project and ''there was a point when it was just barely economically feasible,'' Corps spokesman Ken Crawford said.

Funding was needed from federal, state and local governments, with the state taking on the recreational aspect.

But the state balked at paying to maintain what would be its largest lake project - covering 25,700 acres in Pendleton, Harrison, Bracken, Robertson, Fleming, Nicholas and Bath counties.

Pendleton would have gotten the 1,600-acre Callensville Lake - which would have been created by damming Fork Lick Creek - the largest lake north of Interstate 64.

It would have been the reality of Mr. Goldberg's dreams.

''There would have been hotels, restaurants and people building hundreds of homes on the lake,'' he said. ''It would have been the biggest summer resort in the country.''

But laws changed, interest rates rose and Falmouth's ticket to a place on the map was recalled.

Under federal law, a lake and dam must decrease the costs of flood damage by more than it cost to build, Mr. Crawford said.

''If it cost $20 million to build it would have to save $20 million in a year,'' he said. ''That's real tough to look people in the eye and tell them it's too expensive to protect them.''

Mr. Crawford expects the Corps will be taking another look at old dam proposals, even though it could take up to a decade to complete such a project.

There are new things to consider: development where there once was none; whether a buyout occurs and the town moves to higher ground, and how much money the Federal Emergency Management Agency would provide for such a project.

''It's a long process and there has to be the interest of the local and state governments to share in the cost,'' Mr. Crawford said.