BY SHERRY LYNN GROS
FREELANCE WRITER FOR HIGHLAND PARK MOBILE AL
Catastrophic Failure at around 4 PM on August 30, 2021 Optimist Lake Dam Suffers Critical Injury
This article is an update to yesterday’s article. I guess I could feel it coming. Visiting east park yesterday morning watching the lake fill up at 7am and at 10am I said to my husband, “They’ve closed that standpipe.”
The “HOA” lawyer John T. Bender sent me a cease and desist letter at 3:30 P.M. yesterday with threats of bringing a defamation lawsuit against me and that I must publish a public retraction within 48 hours because of something I’ve said. I’m not sure what I’ve said that isn’t true, he was vague about it. He is also blaming me for the collapse of the dam saying, “…and the two year delay you caused in tending to it is the more likely cause of the collapse” His clients are repeating that mantra online and in meetings for damage control. The ” Unsanctioned HOA” (is what this group calls themselves) group saying the lawsuit that stood them down on maintenance was the reason for the collapse. But the truth is they never stopped “maintaining” the dam and I never stopped protesting their efforts because I believed their “fixes” would collapse the dam sooner than later. True to form the “Unsanctioned HOA” has called for public community meetings to talk about the collapse. I’m sure it will be more about damage control for themselves rather than how they will move forward to repair the dam. The “unsanctioned HOA” and their supporters must be in shock and disbelief that all those effort$ were for naught. I tried to tell them in the strongest possible terms I knew how to pay for dam repairs that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but my words fell on deaf and hostile ears. Instead they chose to take money from well meaning people knowing their efforts would only be temporary.
The question I’m getting most right now is “So what’s next?” This. I’m looking at potential grant eligibility for this particular situation but with Bender dogging me and the unsanctioned HOA causing resistance to every step I take, what should I do? There is no overnight fix like they want. I’m guessing some authority will finally step in and lower the boom while the “HOA” takes credit for being the well connected friend and relative of all Mobile that can get things done in fine fashion. I’ll page through the available grants and watch for the wetland wildlife to leave the area. My main concern is, if there is a rebuild who oversees the public safety aspect of the build? Who inspects it, what specs is it built by? No one will answer me and it is beyond frustrating. Alabama is the only state in America that does not have a Dam Safety Program. So our private dam which delivers US Waters to Milkhouse Creek and to Federally protected wetlands is and has been at the mercy of whoever decides to dump a concrete wall across the water impounding it, those individuals like who have been mismanaging such as the unsanctioned HOA.
I’m angry in one way because if we had a dam safety program in Alabama there would be accountability for this mess and I’m relieved in a way. That weight on the back of my neck where I was always wondering if an unsuspecting fisherman or child wandering onto the spillway from the road would plunge into the gorge without warning. The engineer was right. She said in July, when she was doing the inspection, the dam would come down without warning and drop all the water at once. It did just that yesterday, washing over Pine Run Rd with mud and silt. As we speak the fish are jumping and spinning in the water for air. They cannot breath in the muddy water. I have asked local conservationists to come and do whatever conservationists can do to save the fish that remain. The death and destruction caused by the complete draining of the lake will bring on the gourging of the lake and maybe some exciting wildlife watching opportunities will briefly come our way. After that, at long exhausting last, and for the time being, Optimist will be the overgrown ditch of what once was a sparkling lake teeming with life.