VASS, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina officials have called for a temporary breach in a Moore County dam heavily damaged during Hurricane Matthew.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality said the temporary breach in Woodlake Dam could be there a year or more until the dam’s owners come up with a plan to either fix the dam or install a permanent breach.
In the days after Hurricane Matthew, a hole the size of two ambulances opened in the dam, which holds back the waters of Lake Surf.
More than 200 people south of the dam were evacuated when Matthew’s waters pressed against the structure.
The dam itself is on private property owned by a county club. But state officials said the lake has been drained to appropriate levels.
“It was on Sunday morning, we had grandkids and you hear a heavy knock on the door and you open the door and they’re telling you, you have to go,” James Martin, an evacuated homeowner said.
James Martin and his wife, Tammy have lived on McGill Road in Vass near the dam for 25 years.
If Woodlake Dam had completely breached, it would have sent hundreds of millions of gallons of water downstream to Spring Lake, Fayetteville and Raeford.
“We had daughters that we could go stay with but they got families, too. And though they’re your kids you feel like you’re putting them out,” James Martin said.
The Martin’s returned home eight days later.
But the concern surrounding the dam remains.
CBS North Carolina looked into the inspection records for Woodlake Dam and found it was classified as “high hazard” and in “poor condition” at its last inspection in 2013.
Two years later, Woodlake Resort & Country Club purchased that property, slowing down the repair process.
“The new engineer hired by the new owner had to go through the process again,” said Donald van der Vaart, secretary of Department of Environmental Quality.
According to DEQ, the new owner was originally given a deadline of October 2015 to make the necessary repairs.
That included fixing cracks and “a void of unknown size” in the concrete spillway.
Those were the exact problems the county cited following Matthew.
Van der Vaart said the new owner brought in a new engineer and told CBS North Carolina that led to an extension.
“Another DSO had to be issued because the owner had changed and we were getting to point of getting that corrected when we had the 500-year flood,” Van der Vaart said.
He called it “unfortunate timing,” but the Woodlake Dam is not unique.
North Carolina has the second-highest number of “high hazard” dams.
Those are dams where the loss of life is likely if the structure fails.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there are more than 1,200 high hazard dams in the state.
A total of 153 of them were given either poor or unsatisfactory assessments by state engineers.
That requires that action be taken to repair the dam.
The owners can be fined up to $500-a-day if they don’t make the repairs.
“It’s amazing that after a 500-year flood event we didn’t have more failures. We had very few actual breaches,” Van der Vaart said.
But that response wasn’t enough for the Martin’s who worry that next time they won’t be so lucky.
“Fix it! Fix it because when it breaks and lives are lost, I’m sorry is not going to get it for families who lose loved ones,” Tammie Martin said.
The owners of Woodlake Dam plan on submitting a plan to repair the structure by the state’s deadline.
Issues with the dam and the surrounding areas has also resulted in serious traffic issues nearby.
Vass Road/N.C. Highway 690 has been shut down near the dam and multiple detours have been set up.
For those heading eastbound on N.C. 690: Make a left on to S.R. 2014 McLauchlin Road into Harnett County. Then make a right on to S.R. 1107 Cypress Church Road, followed by a left on to S.R. 1106 Hillman Grove Road, then make a slight right on to S.R. 1108 Cameron Hill Road, right onto N.C. Highway 24, and then right on to the entrance ramp for N.C. Highway 87 to N.C. 690.
If you’re heading westbound on N.C. 690: Continue north on N.C. 87, exit right for N.C. 24, then make a left on to S.R. 1108 Cameron Hill Road, left on S.R. 1106 Hillman Grove Road, right on S.R. 1107 Cypress Church Road, then take a left on S.R. 2014 McLauchlin Road into Moore County to get back to N.C. 690.
CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia contributed to this story.