When will Lexington’s Old Mill Pond dam be fixed?

A plan to repair the dam at the Old Mill Pond in Lexington is being developed two years after it broke during record rain.
A plan to repair the dam at the Old Mill Pond in Lexington is being developed two years after it broke during record rain. tflach@thestate.com

Owners of the landmark Old Mill Pond in Lexington believe they’ve found a way to rebuild the pond’s dam at a lower cost than initial estimates.

The plan would allow them to begin construction next year – if state officials agree – with the pond refilling by the end of the summer.

The earthen dam blew out during the historic October 2015 floods. Restoring the 30-acre pond, which was created in 1891, is important for many town officials, businesses and residents because of its beauty as well as the interest it could generate in the Main Street area.

“People are eager to see it again, anxious to have it back,” Mayor Steve MacDougall.

The cost of rebuilding the earthen dam was initially estimated to be up to $5 million.

Laban Chappell, co-owner of the pond and the adjoining textile mill turned shopping and office center, inquired about federal disaster aid. But he believes receiving the federal aid is unlikely. So he modified his plan to use a mesh of industrial fibers anchored atop concrete blocks to strengthen the new earthen dam. The plan would strengthen erosion control at the dam.

“We’re going to build something that will withstand a much stronger storm” than the one that dropped 16.6 inches in a day in the Columbia area, he said.

The Lexington dam was among 45 in the Columbia area that broke during the disaster that caught many by surprise on Oct. 4, 2015, and the days that followed.

Chappell said the cost of the new plan is still being determined. But it promises to be “much less” than the initial estimate and he believes it can be built without public assistance, he said.

Finding a way to refill the pond has been Chappell’s goal from the start. “It’s always been my intent to get it back,” he said.

However, the new plan must be approved by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, which oversees the state’s dam safety program.

The design for the new dam will be submitted later this fall to state officials for approval, with a goal of starting work in the spring. Chappell is uncertain if state dam safety officials are familiar with the design he is exploring, but says it has been used elsewhere.

Dam safety officials at DHEC are taking a wait-and-see approach on a proposal they haven’t seen yet, spokesman Tim Kelly said.

Refilling the pond would boost efforts to attract more interest in the Main Street area, said Otis Rawl, president of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. “If this works out, it’ll be good for all of us,” he said.

Old Mill Pond is filled with weeds today as Twelve Mile Creek flows through its center into a spillway. The hole in nearly half the 250-foot-long dam is noticeable for traffic passing by on Main Street a block away.

Town officials plan to develop a path for recreation around the pond as part of their downtown revival efforts. But those plans are on hold until the dam is fixed.

“We are going forward with that,” MacDougall said. “We definitely want to make it a feature.”

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483