By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
South Carolina’s broken and breached dams, widespread flooding, and empty basins where man made lakes once glistened in the sun – these are among the best examples of the utter failure of privatization of public infrastructure.
For decades the state allowed private owners and developers to dredge ponds and lakes, and build their own dams, often with roads perched above those dams. Homes were built around the lakes, and homeowners barely gave the dams a second thought. Except for the rare property owner with a background in engineering, homeowners lived in ignorant bliss, unconcerned about wear and tear on decades-old dams and spillways.
And while local municipalities and counties were busy stressing over their own aging infrastructure, state and local officials were only too happy to allow private owners -including homeowners associations in countless lake communities – to look after their own dams, spillways, and lakeside shorelines.
The state agency orginally tasked with regularly inspecting these dams was systematically defunded in the name of keeping taxes low. The agency was years behind in its duty to inspect privately-owned and maintained dams.
And then the torrential rains came, and didn’t let up until 4 dozen dam failures resulted in massive flooding, particularly in Richland County.
Eight months later, many HOAs begin the summer season without their lovely lakes. Homeowners simply cannot afford to rebuild the dams, let alone pay for ongoing maintenance and insurance.
Their property values have plummeted, with no hope of rebounding, despite the existence of homeowners associations.
SC property owner groups weigh costs of rebuilding dams
Some real estate appraisers say a lake can increase the value of property by 15 percent to 50 percent. But building just one could easily top $1 million.
“We can’t afford to rebuild it,” said Vicky Jenks, a spokeswoman for the Walden Pond homeowners’ group. “We are small potatoes. We don’t have the money, and we are not getting any help. It is very painful.”
So far, state regulators have not received many applications to reconstruct dams as property owner groups seek to raise money and develop plans. But some said it’s easy to understand why some property owner groups would not rebuild.