STARKVILLE — The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors now knows the next steps in improving the Oktibbeha County Lake dam.
Due to heavy rains the dam came close to breaching in early 2020, forcing several citizens to evacuate their residences. Board attorney Rob Roberson said the lake has had issues dating back to the 1970s.
“A dam is basically made up of a core and then you put dirt over the top of it, stamp it down,” Roberson said. “Then you put topsoil on top of that. A lot of things that were done in the past were just not done properly, and what ends up happening is that the topsoil ends up sliding off which makes it look worse than what is actually occurring.”
MDEQ Chief of Dam Safety William McKercher contacted Roberson about discussing the dam’s ongoing issues and what documents the department needs going forward to ensure the lake is properly protected.
Because the issues have existed for decades, MDEQ has deemed the Oktibbeha County Lake dam a high hazard dam that needs to see repairs in the near future.
Roberson said after his conversation with McKercher, he realized most of the county engineers over the years have not provided the state with proper documentation of the dam or carried out the conventional steps to maintain the dam’s upkeep. Because proper procedures have not been taken, Oktibbeha County faces a buildup of several years of problems in the making.
“Nothing has ever been set up like that over the years,” Roberson said. “It’s kind of been dragged out to where we are now, and we have the possibility of a dam that can have some major issues in it. Now, the possibility is that the issues may not be nearly as bad as we thought they were, but we’re still going to have to fix it.”
McKercher laid out three leading problems the county needs to fix and make its primary priorities: Ensure the dam’s core is solid and make sure water does not seep out of the side; replace the current emergency overflow because it is a foot and a half too high; and redo the slope of the dam to MDEQ’s appropriate measurements. Roberson said the county must create a design and timeline for these projects and present them to the department.
“All of those things, the design, has to be OK’d by MDEQ first before we can actually get the work done,” Roberson said. “(McKercher) kind of put us on a timeline. As long as we’re getting this stuff done in a timely manner and our engineering people are working with MDEQ, they’re going to be fairly easy to get along with. However, they want this stuff done, and they want it done over the next year.”
Oktibbeha County hired Flowood-based Pickering Firm to conduct an investigation on the status of the dam’s core. Roberson said the county is waiting to receive that data before it can create any design or timeline.
In Pickering’s preliminary report, data shows that the core is pretty strong and does not need as much work to it as the county was intending, but Roberson said that cannot be verified until the official results come in.
“I hope that doesn’t change because that means we’re going to have to spend a lot less money to deal with this if the core is solid,” Roberson said.
Once Pickering completes the geotechnical investigation data, the county will turn in that information to MDEQ and submit an application for a modification of repairs, supporting design plans and hydraulic modeling for MDEQ to review and approve. Roberson said MDEQ wants this done by Feb. 28 but will work with the county if it needs additional time.
The county will need to conduct a hydraulic study as well on the lake, and MDEQ will provide the supervisors a list of potential contractors they can use for this study.
If the county does not take any action or attempt to fix the issues in a timely manner, Roberson said the county will have 30 days to make sure the lake is dry. If this does not happen and water is still collecting, the county will face punishment.
“(MDEQ) is going to try to help us get money to try to help us do some of this stuff, but the stiff part of this is, if we don’t do what we’re required to do with the schedule and timeframes that they feel are reasonable, then it could be a $25,000 fine per day put on the county for not doing what needs to be done,” Roberson said.
MDEQ told the county it must have a yearly maintenance plan as well once all repairs are done.
District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, who represents the district where the county lake resides, attended Friday’s meeting along with Roberson. He said he is glad the board has more clarification on what steps to take and a layout moving forward.
“I think we know exactly what they’re asking for now and exactly what we need and the steps going forward from here,” Howard said.
District 4 Supervisor Bricklee Miller, who also attended Friday’s meeting, said she feels confident in MDEQ overseeing the process of fixing the dam and is looking forward to getting data back from the Pickering report.
“I feel like we now have detailed information that we didn’t have before,” Miller said. “… I appreciated them going through and being very detailed with us today, so we understood what they did not have. I’m just glad that MDEQ is prioritizing our county and citizens’ safety.”