Subscribe to SouthsideCentral via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this website and receive notifications of new posts by email.



Follow me on Twitter

Dam, Dam, Dam Discussion

Here’s another dam opening headline about the dam at the White Mill. We’re going to look at the city staff’s dam position and look at the dam options. City Council will discuss this dam issue at Tuesday’s work session and possibly have a dam vote on it on June 21st.

Let’s get to the dam story.

Ok, we’ve had enough of these dam puns. Whoops.

Here’s the Council Letter that will be presented Tuesday night’s at Danville City Council work session.

Work Session Meeting – Meeting Date: 06/07/2016
Subject: Long Mill Dam Removal
From: Richard Drazenovich, Public Works Director
COUNCIL ACTION: Work Session: 06/07/2016 – Business Meeting: 06/21/2016

Low head dams are often referred to as “drowning machines”. Following the 2010 drowning death of 5 year old Kolton Karnes at the Brantley Steam Plant Dam, City Council authorized the removal of that dam which was a low head dam adjacent to Dan Daniel Park. Danville Public Works removed the dam during the summer of 2011. Due to increased recreational activity near the Long Mill Dam, which is also considered a low head dam, there is a concern for public safety. Staff believes that removal of this dam is in the best interest of the citizens of Danville.

It is well documented that a low head dam is dangerous to anyone who may get caught in its hydraulic danger zone. The reduced buoyancy of a person while in the turbulent re-circulating water will trap that person underwater near the face of the dam and could cause death by drowning. Hundreds of people have been killed across the United States at low head dams over the last several decades. Activities that led to these deaths included wading, fishing, boating, kayaking and tubing. According to Dewberry & Davis’ city wide dam evaluation in 2010, there were four deaths associated with low head dams in the City of Danville since 1965. No deaths have been reported to be associated with the Long Mill Dam, however, the Long Mill Dam was not easily assessable for any decades while owned by Dan River Mills. The construction of the Riverwalk Trail along the north bank of the river in 2006 and the increased popularity of the trail over the last several years, coupled with the opening of the new YMCA on the north bank within the last two years, is bringing more recreational users closer to the dam than ever before. Additionally, the planned riverfront park on the southern bank will most likely introduce additional people to the area. The potential for an accident at this low head dam continues to increase as these amenities become more popular.

There are environmental benefits associated with dam removal including a positive impact to the floodplain and a potential improvement to the river’s ecosystem. Dam removal also opens up waterways to navigation. The options to dam removal are to leave the dam as it is or to modify the dam to remove the risks. The Department of Game & Inland Fisheries supports removal of the dam. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was consulted and a Joint Permit Application has been submitted for the removal of the dam. The option to modify the dam was discussed with the USACE. Since that option involves fill in the
river, the USACE indicated that option most likely will not get permitted because there is no purpose or need for keeping the dam. USACE also expressed concern with the costly mitigation requirements should fill be allowed in the river. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) originally had a concern about sediment. However, based on a survey conducted, very little sediment was located behind the dam. Therefore DEQ has stated that no sediment testing or sediment removal will be required. The Virginia
Municipal League Insurance considers this dam to be an attractive nuisance. They have advised that leaving the dam as it is may expose the city to liability should someone get hurt. The cost of removal has been estimated to be $57,200, based on the linear foot cost of Brantley Dam removal. The cost of modification, based on the recognized Dr. Aadland design for dam modifications, is
estimated to cost well over $1.5 million not including mitigation requirements. It is unlikely that permits could be obtained for this type of modification since the dam serves no useful purpose. A public meeting is scheduled for May 19, 2016 to gather public comments. Information received will be presented at the June 7th work session.

It is recommended that City Council approve the accompanying Resolution authorizing the removal of the Long Mill Dam.

And there you have it. But what do we have here? Let’s bring on a Big Board for some Dam RandomThoughts.

  • The city staff’s position is clear and has been clear from the beginning. They want the dam gone.
  • I firmly believe that the city staff didn’t expect any pushback from this proposal and were totally shocked when some council members also were opposed to the idea.
  • The “public meeting” was very nice. But with the city staff’s position already firmly locked in, I don’t expect any change of heart when the results are presented Tuesday night.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers permitting process is the key factor in whatever decision is finally reached. From what the letter says, the modification of the dam to a visually appealing rock flow is dead on arrival.
  • The city staff has no reason to lie about anything in the council letter, as that will only come back and bite them in the end. That being said, the council letter is ham-fisted and strongly tries to twist the decision into the exact way that the city staff wants this to end up.
  • Yes, nobody has drowned in the last 3000 years at the White Mill dam. But the increase of activity around the dam can’t be discounted. I’ve seen photos of people going out in the river and standing on the dam to fish. Face it, that’s a problem waiting to happen.
  • The “appeal to emotion” is high in this letter and also with the people who want the dam gone. When the dam demolition supporters can point to a dead 5 year old child killed at a similar now-demolished dam, it cripples the argument of the people that want the dam to remain as it is.
  • When the Virginia Municipal League considers the dam an “attractive nuisance” and warns about liability concerns, that’s as real as it gets.
  • The still-yet-unannounced riverfront park to be built on the former White Mill lower parking lot has to be factored into the decision because the Riverwalk Trail will be extended at least up to that part of the river. More people = more chances for problems.
  • City staff has only provided an estimate of the costs to modify the dam with the rockflow modifications. There’s no citation for the $1.5 million+ provided in the council letter. Of course, if the Army Corps of Engineers won’t sign off on a modification, that point is moot.
  • The “better fishing if the dam remains” argument was obliterated when Virginia’s Department of Game & Inland Fisheries supported removal of the dam.
  • There’s no money in the new fiscal year budget for any dam activity, but $60,000 can be easily found from somewhere and assigned to the project. In fact, there will probably be way more than $60,000 leftover from the end of the current fiscal year so that won’t be a problem.
  • The area is known as the “River District”, but there’s really no access to the river in the River District. That’s a minor point but it’s been noted before. The demolition of the dam at the riverfront park would allow canoe and kayak rentals & activity. That “look good” factor is going to be brought up.

So let’s wrap our thoughts up on this entire dam situation. The rockflow modifications seem to be out because of permitting and costs. That means it’s either “Stay” or “Go” for the dam. The only reason for “Stay” that hasn’t been significantly impeached is that the dam has always looked nice and is a unique river feature. I don’t know if that is going to be enough to get five votes to go against the city staff’s recommendation. It’s not looking good right now.

This is why city council’s work sessions need to be televised. Get ready for more on that topic later.

We’ll have our LIVE! coverage of Tuesday night’s council business and work sessions on SouthsideCentral, so be sure to follow along on the website and our social media channels.


12 comments to Dam, Dam, Dam Discussion

  • Fred

    Just another effort to obliterate another symbol of Danville’s rich history. Why are our leaders so deeply ashamed of our history–a history that should instill pride in our past. Also, the dam is a beautiful, mesmerizing reminder of our better days. I pray that our Council will have enough honest brokers to block such a silly proposal.

  • William Hardin

    Everyone has their right to voice their opinions but the facts are clear cut on this matter. No one wants to spend 1.5 to 3 million on adjusting the dam. No one wants to have anyone die as a result of keeping the dam and no one wants the city to lose millions of dollars via a lawsuit should someone die as a result of the dam.

    I love history and love Danville but based on what has been presented publicly, I feel it would be irresponsible for any member of City Council to vote to keep the dam. It should be removed as soon as possible for public safety and liability reasons.

    Removing the dam will open the river up to increased usage, with the Y on one side and the soon to be proposed public park on the other.

    To those who want to protect history and preserve it, there are many wonderful opportunities to do so in Danville and even in the River District that have no liability issues or risk of death to residents. Danville needs to invest to restore and protect its historic structures and utilize them to strengthen the Danville of tomorrow with a stronger tourism tax base.

    Hopefully City Council will take the lead on this like they have in reducing blight and spurring development in the River District.

    • centurian

      Leave it alone. We can point to thousands of things around this world that are “attractive nuisances” yet we don’t run and tear them down. While it appears the rock flow option is dead I truely believe the cost was widely over stated because quite simply the didnt want to do it.
      That being said the dam and the white mill have been one of the most photographed areas along the river. It is a shame to remove such a wonderful sight.
      With all the problems facing Danville I feel money spent on dam removal is the least of our worries.

  • When are they going to remove the covered walkway from White mill to nowhere

  • Sheila B

    As much as I enjoy the view, I cannot stand the thought of a child being killed because we did not remove the danger. That trumps everything!

  • Fred

    Mr. Hedrick says leaders are not ashamed???? They have destroyed every remnant of the mill they can find, and they ripped the confed. flag off its last capital, sold off Schoolfield for a big box drug store and on and on….not sure where you’ve been!

  • Jeff

    KEEP THE DAM. The last dam that was removed is as dangerous now as it was before. Large chunks of concrete are just a foot or two under the surface and there is rebar bent down like hooks all over the place. I kayak that area often and you can see it all when the water is clear. I cringe everytime I go over it hoping I don’t get hung up on the rebar.

  • Trevor

    sounds like people think the dam location is the only location for a child or anyone to jump in the water and drown. you can remove A BC…XYZ and post all the warning and danger signs but they are not going to prevent a drowning. if u worried about drownings DRAIN THE DAM RIVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!! see what treasures lie at the bottom.

    intelligent people not going to jump in a river. if u jump into a river or lake be ready to swim out or drown.

  • Wayne Dobson

    Ever heard of fencing , signs , rope and buoy’s . like the ones that are at the Union street bridge ?? There goes one of the most beautiful parts of the River. Sounds like a done deal.

Leave a Reply