improving fish passage and safety at Jordan's Point Dam on the Maury River involved removing the middle and retaining the edges
Source: City of Lexington, Project Description: Jordan's Point Dam Removal
Ever since 2006, when a teenager drowned at Jordan's Point Dam, the City of Lexington wanted to remove the 10-high dam across the Maury River. Safety was more important to the city than fish passage, and economics played a role. The city had paid $100,000 to the estate of the 16-year-old who had been trapped in the hydraulic churn below the dam, and estimated repair costs were substantially higher than removal costs.1
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality determined the dam had structural deficiencies (including a crack along the entire length) and was unsafe without repair. The $2.5-$3 million cost to grout voids, encase the downstream face of the dam in concrete, pour a new reinforced concrete cap, and install anchors into the riverbed was equivalent to a year's worth of funding in the capital budget for the City of Lexington, but the US Fish and Wildlife Service and others were willing to provide the $190,000 needed.
The city's costs would be just $20,000 for in-kind services, plus $8,000 for plants to restore the vegetation along the shoreline. Traditionally the city had budgeted $25,000 annually for maintaining the dam and Jordan's Point Park.
The Jordan's Point Dam was historic and created a flatwater pool that could be used for recreational use, but the City Manager thought removal vs. preservation was an easy choice:2
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries completed an Environmental Assessment that considered six alternatives. The decision to remove the dam included a commitment to preserve some of the historical character of the dam, which was built before 1900.
The final alternative selected in 2018 was to breach the dam in the middle, but retain portions on either side of the river and the defunct fish ladder to interpret the past. The project included taking out eight piers of an abandoned railroad bridge downstream of the dam that were located in the active river channel (leaving five other piers).3
Jordan's Point Dam (and piers downstream from abandoned railroad bridge)
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
A non-profit group formed by "dam fans, pro-dam owners and operators of dams" made a last-minute proposal in 2018 to retain the Jordan's Point Dam. It was the first orphan dam that American Dams, Inc. offered to purchase, and the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors agreed to assume ownership of the dam as part of the proposal. One possibility was to reduce the water level behind the dam low enough so it was no longer required to meet the state's dam safety regulations, but it was not clear if major repair costs could be avoided by that proposal.
The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) also urged preservation rather than removal of the dam. Keeping the dam in place would retain the flatwater pool next to VMI's campus, and eliminate the instream and riparian disturbances from dam removal. Placing stone in the riverbed below dam was proposed as a way to reduce the drowning hazard.
One advocate for dam removal stated:4
The city was obligated to make a decision by August 1, 2018, and to repay the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries $60,000 in planning costs if it withdrew from the removal agreement.
However, Lexington officials decided that the proposal was not sufficiently complete to justify breaking the deal negotiated with state and Federal oficials. On July 28, 2018, City Council voted for a second time to remove the dam. The two members on City Council worked at VMI had to recuse themselves from the vote, since their employeyer had taken a public position on the issue.
The Jordan's Point Dam was removed in May, 2019. That beat the deadline; the state's operation and maintenance certificate for the dam expired on November 3.
Workers cut into the concrete dam, then discovered an older wooden dam next to it that was buried in sediment on the upstream side. The Maury River ran free after two dams, plus eight of the thirteen piers from the former railroad bridge, were removed. In the process, two historic millstones were extracted from the river for use in interpretive exhibits.5
The Maury River water level dropped five feet at Jordan's Point after the dam was removed. City officials planned to retain the "natural feel" of the park, while increasing public access to the river for recreational use.6