Rebuilding the Old Mill Pond dam in Lexington that was ruptured in October’s flooding probably will require a public-private partnership for a project estimated to cost up to $5 million, the pond’s owner says.
“Our full intent is to one day rebuild the dam,” said Ryan Condon, a Lowcountry developer who is co-owner of the pond and adjoining mall since 2004. But, he said, “We’ve got to have some help in some way.”
Town officials already are seeking federal disaster aid for the project, arguing that a public path in the works around what was a 30-acre pond makes it eligible for that assistance.
Loss of the pond is “a major setback” for the effort to revitalize the downtown area in the steadily growing community of 20,000 residents, Mayor Steve MacDougall said. The trail was part of Town Hall’s plan to remake Main Street as a specialty retail hub.
The pond was a local landmark for more than a century until its 124-year-old earthen dam broke during the Midlands’ historic rain Oct. 4, flooding the adjoining textile mill turned shopping mall and office complex.
“It’s an iconic feature of Lexington,” MacDougall said.
Nearly 27,000 motorists who travel on Main Street daily now see Twelve Mile Creek flow through a 40-foot-high hole and under the road.
Building the dam is likely to take at least two years depending on what safety features state environmental officials require.
Town leaders also face fixing a section of the dam at Gibson Pond Park that was breached in the rain, a $1.2 million project.
Any disaster aid that comes for either repair will go to Town Hall, where officials are not familiar with dam-building.
“That’s something we know we’ll have to get out and figure,” MacDougall said. “We’ll work those details out.”
It’s too soon to say what the alternative could be if federal officials reject aid for rebuilding the Old Mill Pond dam, he said.
Other communities in South Carolina typically rely on federal transportation aid for walking and biking paths.
Dam due to be fixed
Repairs ordered by state officials were underway on the Old Mill Pond dam when the rains came.
A sinkhole in the dam was found in June after a pipe inside it cracked, Condon said.
The pond was lowered 15 feet for that work when dams at Gibson Pond Park and Barr Lake a mile upstream broke in the rain, sending tons of water unexpectedly into the one at the mill, officials said.
Everything at the mill pond appeared in good shape a few hours before, with a spillway at the edge of the dam open as an extra precaution, said Laban Chappell, Condon’s partner and son-in-law.
Chappell, staying at a hotel a few blocks away, was awakened before dawn by a tenant who discovered water pouring into the basement of the 75,000-square-foot mill.
He said water spilling out of the pond looked like “whitewater rapids” when he went to see what was happening.
After he entered the mill, he said he heard “a roar like a freight train coming” as the dam gave way.
The surge left a hole extending nearly halfway across the 250-foot-long dam and destroyed a small addition to the mill below whose debris still is scattered there.
Law enforcement officials rescued three residents a few blocks downstream. But damage was minimal to other buildings in that lightly developed block on the eastern edge of the community’s downtown. A section of Main Street that crumbled has been fixed.
Many stores reopen
A dozen of the mall’s 27 stores, restaurants and offices were flooded, and part of a deck adjoining the brewpub was torn away.
Most of the businesses damaged reopened in a few weeks.
“It was a big surprise,” said Collin Danker, operator of Freeway Music, said of the flood.
But he went to work immediately to clean up the music instruction studio that had been open a month. “We put too much into this to give up,” Danker said.
Calvin Lyles is sorting thousands of books stored in boxes and putting up shelves in the Rain Day Pals bookstore, which is moving to the upper level of the mill. Lyles hopes to open again to serve readers and collectors by Jan. 1. “It’s something I enjoy,” he said.
Renovations continue in space occupied by the 120-member Watershed Fellowship, a Presbyterian Church in America congregation.
“It was so overwhelming,” said the pastor, Rev. Kevin Thumpston. “Everything needed to be gutted.”
But the disaster opened the way for changes that will be a better fit for church activities, he said.
Volunteers recruited by church members helped Lyles and other businesses clean up.
Pond ‘big part’ of town
The mill produced cloth and fabric until 1968 and then became a warehouse. In 1993, it was converted into an indoor mall.
Meanwhile, the pond, created to power textile manufacture, became a popular spot for aquatic recreation and supplied drinking water locally for about 60 years until 2000.
Interest in making the pond a park never materialized, but the path promised to accomplish that dream in part.
“It’s been a big part of our town,” MacDougall said.
Temporary earthen walls are in place to protect the remnant of the dam left.
Coping with the flood is the largest hurdle Condon has experienced in nearly 40 years as a retail landlord – worse than the aftermath of fires, he said. It also interrupted his quest to revert to hydropower to provide electricity in the mill to help lower utility bills.
The stress caused an outbreak of shingles, from which he has recovered.
Still, Condon enjoys the challenges of modernizing the building and visits regularly with tenants.
His goal is to restore a scenic-setting-turned mudhole with scattered debris and a small stream in its center.
“What we suffered is unbelievable,” Condon said. “But we’ll find a way back.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483