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What would happen if any of Shelby County's three primary dams were to fail?
That question has been studied recently by local officials, who called in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help them develop a contingency plan of action for such a disaster.
Shelby County is served by dams located at Lake Shelby, Guist Creek and Mary Ross Spillway, and the newest of them, Guist Creek, was built in 1961. Officials don't even know the ages of the other two, but they are more than 50 years old.
Emergency Management Agency Director Charlie Frazee said that people should not be concerned that the dams are unsafe. They are inspected routinely for cracks and other telltale signs of problems by the Kentucky Dam Safety Division, and none of the dams ever has failed. Lake Shelby and Guist Creek are to be inspected this year.
The worst flooding to occur in Shelby County was in 1997, when the county received 7 inches of rain in 24 hours. "Half the town was flooded, and almost everybody had water in their basements," Frazee said. "But the dams didn't cause that.
"This is just an emergency action plan to follow. If Lake Shelby should fail, for example, it would flood the entire Clear Creek area."
Guist Creek is classified by the state as a high-hazard dam, Lake Shelby a moderate-hazard and Mary Ross as low. Frazee said that the dam that holds the most water is Guist Creek, and its failure would cause the most damage.
"But we have the least to worry about with that one, because it's the newest and is in the best condition," he said.
The plan identifies which residents would be in danger in the event of a dam's failure.
"If Lake Shelby should fail, for example, there are about 14 property owners who would be imminent danger," Frazee said.
"So what we're going to do is we're going to make sure everybody [emergencies services departments] agrees with this plan, then we'll invite all these people, as well as all the property owners, to a meeting and go over the plan with them, and give them an alert radio. Then we'll be prepared if something does happen."
In addition to providing an evacuation list of residents in the danger area, the plan contains a list of road closures, including Burk's Branch, which would be totally submerged if Lake Shelby's dam were to fail.
Corps engineer Lester Washington, who was instrumental in the plan's creation, called it a "win-win situation."
"We have done this in other communities also, within this district's four-state area, and it is an invaluable tool for counties to use in the event of a dam failure," said Washington, whose district encompasses Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
Matthew R. Newman, project engineer, addressed a meeting Wednesday of Shelby's emergency services department heads, both city and county.
He outlined the responsibilities and duties of various departments in the plan and explained various flow charts and maps.
"The road department would take care of things like damaged culverts; EMS would provide the primary medical transport; the division of water would be in charge of sandbags and water and sewer would be responsible for moving any hazardous chemicals to higher ground," he said.
Frazee said that the idea of putting together a plan for the dams came about when the Division of Water and Sewers got a $360,000 federal grant from the Corps to do a study on the effects of water issues, including flooding, at Guist Creek, because that lake is the main water supply for Shelby County.
He added that a mock flood drill is scheduled for Oct. 28, coordinated by the Department of Public Works.