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Community Hears Lake Barton Dam Plan

Lake Barton poses area flood risk and may have to expand, said officials.

Fairfax County and the federal government presented a $3 million plan to address safety and aesthetic concerns at Lake Barton during a Dec. 10 public meeting at Bonnie Brae Elementary School.

The meeting is part of Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) and Fairfax County's ongoing efforts to address concerns regarding Barton and two other lakes in the Braddock District.

Natural Resources Conservation Service official Wade Biddix said Lake Barton faced two problems. The lake could be a flood risk to the surrounding area and does not comply with the minimum federal requirement for sediment storage, according to Biddix's presentation at the meeting.

"The current conditions could cause a failure of the dam," said Biddix, the assistant state conservationist for water resources.

A BREACH IN Barton's dam and flood protection system would place approximately 535 residents and 840 workers in the area at risk. It would also affect 193 homes, the nearby line of the Virginia Railway Express and roads that carry about 73,800 cars on a daily basis, according to statistics provided at the presentation.

The federal government estimates the total cost of flood damage could be as much as $64.8 million in private and public losses.

Officials did not give a reason for the sediment storage requirement but many residents favor dredging the lake to increase its sediment capacity. People who live on the lake said the current sediment at Lake Barton has had a negative impact on aesthetics, recreational activities and water quality by leading to a more shallow, muddy body of water.

"[Lake Barton] is important to us aesthetically and it impacts me because I drink Fairfax County water. The lake is in our watershed and the water quality is poor," said Mary Cortina, who lives at the edge of Lake Barton.

THE FEDERAL government has proposed "hardening" Lake Barton's auxiliary spillway — the place water would go if it ran over the dam — with concrete as part of a new flood protection plan. Lake Barton's current spillway is made only of earth, Biddix said.

But contractors would have to remove approximately 3.4 acres of woods for an access road during the project. When the project was finished, they would convert two of those acres to grass and plant new trees on 1.4 acres, said Biddix.

The loss of grown trees made some residents at the meeting uncomfortable.

"I'd like to see them minimize the loss of a trees. A mature tree holds back runoff from getting into streams," said Cortina.

This aspect of the project may also cause some discomfort to residents in the Burke Centre Conservancy and Burke Cove Condominium Association since the construction will cause noise and air pollution, he said.

Federal officials have proposed increasing Lake Barton's permanent water level by 0.8 feet in elevation and 0.44 acres in surface area in order to increase overall sediment capacity, according to the presentation. The option is the cheapest, only $10,000 of the $3 million project would be spent on this aspect of the plan. It would warrant no break in the lake's recreation activities when it is implemented.

But increasing the elevation and surface area of the lake will require agreements with the Burke Centre Conservancy and Burke Cove Condominium Association over land rights, since some of the newly submerged ground would belong to them, said Biddix.

Raising the water level would not actually remove any of the sediment already in the lake either, said some residents. Several people who live around Lake Barton have argued, instead, for a dredging of the lake to remove it.

At $760,000, dredging Lake Barton would be significantly more expensive than simply raising the water level, and the federal government, which is paying for approximately $2 million of the $3 million project already, is unlikely to approve it.

"[Federal officials] are required to go with the least costly alternative," said Bulova.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, which is contributing $1 million to the project, is considering setting aside $1 million per year to deal with the dredging issue in lakes around the county.

Braddock District's three lakes were built during the 1970s and have been dredged at least once. Dredging stopped when the county's economy took a downturn in the 1990s and only one county lake, Lake Accotink, is currently being dredged, said Bulova.

But if the county does set aside $1 million annually for dredging, Lake Barton should be at the top of the list for service since it is the most "filled in" of any in Fairfax, she added.

Bulova encouraged residents to show up during Fairfax County’s budget hearings and advocate for the dredging of Lake Barton.

"Make sure my colleagues hear from you about dredging," she said.

The supervisor recommended the community move forward with efforts to both dredge Lake Barton and raise its water level. Increasing Lake Barton's water level does not preclude dredging in the future, she said.

Community members said they would stay focused on getting the lake dredged.

"I don't want the dredging to be ignored. They can't continue to raise the pool elevation as a solution to the problem," said Patrick Gloyd, executive director of the Burke Centre Conservancy.