Questions on structural soundness of Eden Mill Dam prompt draining, repairs

June 06, 1993|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

Along the stretch of Deer Creek where canoeists paddled until last fall, only a desolate streambed remains, and no canoe can float on the trickle of water.

Questions about the structural soundness of the Eden Mill Dam prompted Harford officials to drain the water behind it. The water level throughout Eden Mill Park dropped as much as 14 feet -- draining wetlands, uncovering once-submerged fallen trees and exposing the muddy sides and bottom of the streambed.

Now, though several inspections have found no imminent danger ofcollapse or failure of the 18-foot, rock-filled masonry dam, Harford County is spending $800,000 for necessary repairs and restoration.

Preliminary planning has begun, and the project is tentatively scheduled for completion by the end of the year. Eventually, the water behind the dam should rise to last fall's level, county officials say.

Meantime, Deer Creek continues draining through the opening in the dam at Eden Mill.

Floodwaters rushing through during several severe storms have caused additional damage. A strong downstream current now carries water and sediment along the once-placid Deer Creek to lower sections of the creek.

While park visitors can still enjoy hiking, mill tours and picnics, the Eden Mill Nature Center has had to cancel the second year of its popular canoe programs.

Last year, 1,100 people participated in the twilight paddling trips -- a number that had been expected to triple this year with trips offered almost every night. In addition, area schoolchildren and community residents also enjoyed canoeing on Deer Creek.

"This would have been our big year to really entrench" the canoeing program, said Frank Marsden III, volunteer director of the Eden Mill Nature Center. "All of that literally went down the river."

The problems at the park began last November when a state engineer ordered the county to lower the water behind Eden Mill Dam after he observed water leaking from beneath the adjoining mill's building foundation.

"The concern was that the collapse of the mill building could cause the loss of the dam," said Harald Van Aller, the geo-technical engineer who conducted the first two inspections of the dam for the Department of Natural Resources' dam safety division.

Inspections later revealed that the water he saw had been leaking through an old sluiceway in the mill and was not a cause for concern, he said. But his second inspection after the water was drained revealed that portions of the dam had deteriorated, leading him to deem it unsafe.

Mr. Van Aller's concerns focused on deterioration in the walls surrounding a 6-foot opening in the dam that is normally covered with boards to hold back the water. The boards can be removed from the opening to lower or drain the pool.

Additional engineering studies determined that the dam needed repairs, but its condition was not critical, said Larry Klimovitz, county director of administration.

But, he added, the county chose "corrective action."

A channel will be dug to divert the stream away from the main spillway, and temporary dams will be built upstream to create a dry area along the back face of Eden Mill Dam for work crews, said R. Wayne Keeler, county deputy public works director and the project's manager.

"The dam can be fixed and it can be restored to its original condition," he said.

Repairs to the historic structure will include new masonry, grouting of the rock fill, reconstruction of the opening in the dam and the possible construction of an additional mechanism to drain the pond. Heavy accumulations of silt near the dam will be removed.

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