Carroll County Lake: Hope is floating on 1000 acres of water

Map of the soon to be lake. Courtesy Carroll County Chamber of Commerce

(Huntingdon) – Will one thousand acres of water be a boost for a quiet West Tennessee county?

Along Highway 70, which used to be the main Bristol-Knoxville-Nashville-Memphis route before the Interstate highway system, a noticeable structure is obvious on the south side. Tons of granite prepare for tons of water, which hopes to draw visitors, industry and residents to this area northeast of Jackson which critics and proponents of the lake agree is plagued with unemployment.

Huntingdon mayor Dale Kelley was a part of the lake project from the beginning. In 1984 he was a member of the state legislature and created the Carroll County Watershed Authority. The idea was flood control, recreation and economic development. “Over the years a lot of rules regulations have changed in regards to the environment issues. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s we ran into some snags along the way. When I became mayor in 1992, we reworked the CCWA,” Kelley says.

The depth of the lake at the dam should be 50 feet

“The original site to build a lake for flood control and for recreational purposes was on Beaver Creek to the Obion River basin. There was flooding of cropland every year and trees were dying,” according to Kelley.   “To find some way curtail that problem was reason the watershed authority was created.”

“There are six different agencies to work through when building a lake. All have different regulations. You can imagine what it took to get all six agencies in the same room,” he remembers. One of those was the replacement of wetlands that will end up under water when the lake fills. Wetlands, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, include areas such as swamps, marshes and bogs where saturated soil conditions affect the plant and animal life. Creation of a lake in this case takes away from wetlands acreage rather than adding to them. To offset that loss in wet lands, The CCWA needed to replace them. They needed to find an area where whatever wetlands were removed could be replaced, or mitigated.

“We researched ten different sites,” Kelley says. “The original site had better than 1,100 acres of wetlands. That’s never been mitigated in the history of the country.  We had to look to a different site where we had the opportunity to develop a one thousand acre lake. We wouldn’t settle for anything less.”

“We looked at ten sites throughout the county and came up with this Reedy Creek site. There were 119 acres of wetlands involved,” Kelley says. “Therefore we were going to mitigate the 119 acres we looked for three hundred acres to put back into wetlands. We chose along the Crooked Creek site in the same watershed. We are putting it back to its original planting three hundred acres of trees and putting channel back to its original state of 2.2 miles. The mitigation site and the lake site are all being developed at the same time.”

Looking at a map of Crooked Creek just north of Huntingdon, the first thing one notices is the creek is anything but crooked. A straight blue line just north of Huntingdon travels west to the Obion River. Channeling a stream may be good for flood control along the stream, but also introduces runoff rapidly into the Obion, which could contribute to flooding downstream and erosion in the stream bed. With three hundred acres of Crooked Creek’s watershed back to its original channel, water moves more slowly and the wetlands along the stream are inundated during wet periods, causing few if any problems for the land and plant and animal life accustomed to wetland environs.

“We evaluated a number of locations and this particular location allowed us to design a lake that would have a fifty-foot depth around the dam and an average depth of twenty feet,” says engineer Kevin Young, senior vice president of JR Wauford Engineering. He has been the engineer on the lake project for several years. The new site would create a lake strictly for recreation rather than flood control.

“The site is a relatively good site to build as dam,” according to Young.  “But one of the interesting things we discovered about twenty feet below the surface of the lake bed is a layer of sand that underlies the entire lake. If at any point that sand comes to the surface that provides a conduit for water to leak out of the lake.”
“We have done things that have not been done,” says Kelley. “As we go through the layers of soil building the dam there is a blade that goes 40 ft down to a hard bed of clay and fill it with bentonite clay. And when wet, bentonite becomes like cement to prevent leaking,” Kelley says. Young ads the bentonite clay was also added to the layer of sand bellow the lake to keep water from leaking out of the sandy bottom and undermining the dam.

“With all of that said one thing we have found as engineers is we cannot design and contractors cannot build a dam that will not leak some,” Young says. “Inside the dam there is a drainage system that will take this leakage that is inevitable to occur in any dam. The drainage system collects this water and routes it out of the dam and so it will not do any damage to the dam and let the water flow into Reedy Creek on the downstream side.”

The dam began construction in November, 2008 and finished this past February.  “We already have cleared 360 acres for the lake for soil to build the dam. Now we are clearing the other 600 acres,” Kelley says.

“We are using a different process to fill the lake. We are digging three wells about 375 feet deep and  12” wide that will pump a little over 1,400 gallons per minute we can fill in twelve to twenty months, depending on the rainfall. Last year the rain was seventy inches. If that occurs again we can fill it in about fifteen months. We trust it will be filled by late 2011 and hopefully operable in 2012.” The Southeast Regional Climate Center says the average rainfall at the Huntingdon weather station is fifty three inches.

At the lake site there was hardly any rotation crop, Kelly says and few structures. The land was mostly used for cattle and timber and the owners cut most the timber. There were number of property owners but very few structures. “The Watershed Authority only owns fifty feet beyond the permanent pool of water, which will create opportunities for housing on the lake and its twenty two miles of shoreline,” Kelley says, plus he ads hiking paths and recreational boating will be a part of the land around the lake.

This pond is just southwest of the new lake site

“The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency will stock it with six different kinds of fish. About one third of the lake will be for fishing only. We want to be sure we keep the natural habitat to grow and reproduce,” he says. “I had no idea how big the fishing industry is in this area.”

The project is not without controversy. Lisa Tucker of Clarksburg, east of the lake, has lived in the county since she was eleven years old. She describes the movement of people from the area as “harsh.”

“My main objection is they were going to spend ten million dollars on a lake when we were in such an economically repressed area. When they first started the lake, we had probably one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. They needed to be bringing in industry for jobs,” says Tucker. She says she commutes to another county for her job and will probably have to move.  Her brother -in- law, Jesse, agrees.

“When they bought the land I don’t think they gave us a fair price,” Jesse Tucker says. His father purchased the land, some of which will now be part of the lake, about fifty years ago and he hoped to pass it on to his children. “I’m in the back part of the lake on Kirk Road. They gave me one thousand dollars an acre. I was paying property tax on more than that.  I think it was about thirteen or fourteen hundred dollars an acre,” he says.

Mayor Kelley counters the lake is there to serve the end of more jobs. “This will cost fifteen to eighteen million dollars total. We had University of Tennessee at Martin do an analysis of the economics of the lake and have concluded conservatively it will generate fifty to eighty million dollars its first ten years operation. We’re looking for Carroll County to be a bright spot in the future.”

As for unemployment, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development shows Carroll County and Pickett County tied in January, 2010 for the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the state’s ninety five counties.

The lake has brought in at least one business, albeit a small one, before the first gallon of water had filled the lake.

Duroboats was based in Seattle, Washington but had been thinking about locating to the middle of the population of the country. “In Seattle we were in an island as far as distribution was concerned. Weve got the Pacific on one side and mountains and deserts to the east. I wanted to get East of the Mississippi,” says Larry McPhail, company president.

“My daughters did a 6,000 mile trip in a 16’ Duroboat and it in part ran through Tennessee,” he says.  “I started looking in the Knoxville area which was really attractive but it turned out to be too expensive.”

In Huntingdon he found an old salvage company and turned that into a new factory. “The lake influenced me a lot but the type of boat we had. It made me believe Carroll County was serious about more businesses and not standing still and promoting recreation.”

“Right now it is me and a couple guys in the management team,” he says. “We will not hire factory workers until we make a forecast and start procuring inventory.” He estimates ten to fifteen workers will be the maximum hired. “Our design is efficient. It takes just a few people to build a lot of boats.”

A Memphis Business Journal article in June, 2003 said Carroll County had as much as 24 percent of its workforce in the garment and textile industry. When the article was written it was down to 6 to 8 percent.

As of now, there is no name for the lake, but there is talk of a contest. If this sounds familiar, Gibson County opened a 560 acre lake in 2003, not far from the Carroll County site.  As for a name for a fishing and recreational destination east of Trenton,  the TWRA not a contest decided on a name –Gibson County Lake.

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About Devin Greaney
Publisher, Across Tennessee.


4 Responses to “Carroll County Lake: Hope is floating on 1000 acres of water”
  1. vicki jeffers says:

    i like. you have done a great job i can’t wait to see whats next. vicki

  2. Darrin says:

    Great article about my native Carroll County.

  3. Jill Sharrow says:

    Hi I’m excited about this lake being so close to home Jackson the only thing I really want though is year round camping with full hook ups at a reasonable price when do u expect to have the lake open to the public thanks for the info Jill

  4. adam watwood says:

    Ive lived in Carroll County all my life, and all types of water oriented recreation has always been a part of it. I cant wait for the new lake to open for business. Especially fishing, perhaps some top tournaments might be interested. I’m also very optomistic about the county’s economy in the years following. I have 2 children, and, honestly, Ive been worried about their futures lately. The new lake gives me hope.

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