BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C. (WECT) - Boiling Spring Lakes lost its lakes in Hurricane Florence. Now, the community is losing its patience.
Homeowners who enjoyed a lakefront view with all the perks that go with it - boating, fishing and swimming - are now looking out at a vast field. Vegetation grows on the sandy lake bottom, which was filled with feet of sparkling, blue water before the storm sucked the water from the lakes.
The community named for its 50 lakes fed by one spring is working to rebuild the dams that washed away during the storm but it will take years.
Hurricane Florence dumped 30 inches of rain in Southeastern North Carolina.
The city drained water from the lakes ahead of the storm but it wasn’t enough to counter the four days of rainfall that came with Florence.
First, it filled the lakes.
Then, the Sanford Dam, which was built in the 1960s and was considered a high hazard dam by the North Carolina Dam Safety Program, failed.
It caused the city’s other dams to burst, including the Upper Dam, Pine Lake Dam and North Lake Dam, draining much of the water out and leaving some unforgettable images of the storm.
The storm also washed away several roads in the community.
The estimated cost to fix all the damage is just under $20 million and it will take years to fill up the lakes.
BRINGING THE LAKES BACK
“Can we live without it? Yeah, but do we want to? No. We would like to have our lake back,” said Rob Warner, who owns the Office Coffee and Wine Bar, which also used to have a lake view.
His shop became a hub for help and support during the storm. He handed out free coffee. The shop also became a hub for the distribution of supplies brought in by various relief organizations to help the community, as it went without power and water for days following the storm.
A year later, it still is a place for support.
Now, folks come here to talk about the big question: when will the lakes return?
“It’s a little frustrating,” Warner said. "The time period keeps getting pushed back. I understand the money and all the studies that have to be done but it just gets a little frustrating. The lakes are a huge part of our community and it doesn’t look the same right now.”
Boiling Spring Lakes Commissioner Steve Barger often checks on the progress at the Sanford dam along Alton Lennon Road. On a day in August, he watched as crews took soil samples along what’s left of the road.
“I understand everybody’s frustration with what’s going on now," Barger said. “This is not a fast process.”
He explained the city must pay for the projects up front. Then, FEMA and the state will send reimbursement money. In order for the city to get reimbursed, Boiling Spring Lakes must wade through mountains of paperwork and make sure everything is done by the book.
Barger said the city has an annual budget of $4.5 million and now, it is trying to come up with $21 million to pay for the work.
“The biggest thing for me is people are starting to lose their patience; I’m starting to lose my patience,” he said. "When this sort of thing happens, you know it’s going to be a lengthy project to put it all back. But once you start living it every day and the things you use for recreation, I used to bring my own children out here to the swimming area, when a city of our size loses a major recreation, it really hits hard.”
Aside from the spring that still flows in Boiling Spring Lakes, optimism is also flowing.
“Our city’s not gonna be known for the disaster," Barger said. “It’s going to be known for what we were afterward.”
According to the latest projections from the city, the dams should be rebuilt by summer of 2021.