Uncertainty surrounds rebuilding the dam at the Old Mill Pond in Lexington, a local landmark damaged by flooding 14 months ago that is a key element in downtown redevelopment.
“Everything is in limbo right now,” said Ryan Condon, owner of the complex that includes the dam, the pond and a former textile mill converted into an indoor mall with two dozen stores, restaurants, offices and a church.
Condon is assessing what to do amid increasing doubt that federal disaster aid will be received to fix the broken dam and refill the 125-year-old pond.
He is willing to spend as much as $1 million for repairs, but said public aid is necessary for anything more.
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Initial estimates range as high as $5 million – nearly triple what Condon paid to buy the mall in 2004 – depending on the extent of repairs yet to be decided.
“We’ve got to start thinking creatively about how we go about this,” said Laban Chappell, Condon’s partner and son-in-law. “Everybody wants the pond back.”
But the pond that was 30 acres may wind up much smaller if dam repairs are costly.
Town leaders are looking for assistance to restore the pond that Mayor Steve MacDougall calls an “iconic feature” of the town. “We have to get involved and find some way to make this happen,” he said.
Loss of the pond is a setback for efforts to revitalize the downtown area in the steadily growing community of 25,000 residents, officials say.
A proposed walking and bicycling path around the pond is part of Town Hall’s plan to remake Main Street into a specialty retail hub.
Repairing the dam to refill the privately owned pond so the publicly developed path can go forward appears “outside the box” to obtain disaster aid, town administrator Britt Poole said.
For some community leaders, rebuilding the dam is a safety issue for the 25,000 commuters and shoppers who travel daily on a low-lying section of Main a block away.
Another torrent from a significant storm could threaten traffic again, they say.
“There are a lot of concerns about that,” said Otis Rawl, president of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. “We need the dam back in place for flood control.”
Half of the earthen dam collapsed during record rain in October 2015 that sent tons of water from two ponds upstream into Old Mill Pond.
That surge left a hole extending nearly halfway across the 250-foot-long dam and destroyed a small addition to the mall.
The extent of repairs needed at the Old Mill Pond dam depends partly on improvements still being developed at town-owned Gibson Pond and privately owned Barr Lake a mile upstream, officials said.
Meanwhile, debris left by the flood downstream of the mill dam was cleaned up this fall.
Then a temporary wall of earth and stone was installed to divert Twelve Mile Creek away from Main. That wall allowed the pond to rise two feet in its center.
The former mill produced cloth and fabric until 1968 and then became a warehouse. In 1993, it was converted into a mall.
Its pond, created to power textile manufacturing, was popular for recreation and supplied drinking water for about 60 years until 2000.
Tearing down the broken dam is a possibility if repair proves exorbitant. But that’s a step even its owners are reluctant to take.
“That would be the last thing we’d ever do,” Chappell said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483