Lexington dam debate continues on as deadline looms

Jordan's Point Dam could be saved by nonprofit but rain delaying proposal

By Shayne Dwyer - Reporter

LEXINGTON, Va. - The Jordan's Point Dam along the Maury River in Lexington is in need of repair, and at this point, it either needs to stay or go. The city owns it and has secured state funding to demolish it, but neighboring Rockbridge County wants it to stay.

On Monday night, county leaders talked about what's next, and they again found themselves without a definitive answer with the deadline for a decision just two weeks away. The possible buyer, a nonprofit organization, American Dams, wants to push that deadline even more because heavy rains have made it impossible to get up close to the dam. The river is heavily used by kayaks and tubes, and there is even a vision for a rapids park, but action needs to happen quickly if any of that is to come true.

If you've gone through Lexington sometime in the last 200 years, the view of the river is one you've been treated to. Jordan's Point Dam is there now, but the dam is aging, out of specifications, and the city says it's done with it.

"I think it would be very dishonorable to remove that dam, for the founding people of the county and the city that put it there," American Dams member Daniel Cranston said.

State money is in place to tear the dam down and put what the city of Lexington sees as a headache aside. But American Dams wants to buy the dam for a nominal price from the city and then pay a repair bill that's estimated to be in the millions. With that offer on the table, Rockbridge County has now found itself in the middle.

"The city offered to give it to the county, and the board of supervisors has indicated that they would accept it under the right conditions," Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter said.

Lexington won't sell the dam directly to American Dams, so Rockbridge County has stepped in to be the broker, taking it off the city's hands and then selling it to American Dams. The price tag isn't the issue -- it's the repair estimate of $3 million. American Dams disputes that estimate from a 2007 study but said they can't get a figure in line just yet because the recent rains have caused the water to run very rapidly, preventing crews from getting a close look at the damage.

"We just do not see that amount of cost, but it's hard to explain that to people that are not in the construction field, (when there's a different) way they attack a project," Cranston said.

If the three parties can make the Oct. 4th deadline, Rockbridge County still wants to know that the plan to repair the dam will render it safe and that it won't cost taxpayers anything. American Dams is waiting to hear back from the city on the deadline extension, but according to the county, it's a delicate balance. The city and the state have a preferred window to tear the dam down, and that window is quickly winding down. The nonprofit wants more time to do their due diligence, cutting into that window. The county said it would be easier for them to stay out of it, but they'll do what they can to keep the dam there for the people that enjoy the water sports it provides.

"They'll paddle upstream and then float back down if they don't have a shuttle, so they enjoy using the dam, and it's what everybody has always known," Suter said.

If American Dams is able to get the property, they plan to bring the dam up to specifications as soon as possible.

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