The city of Terrell wants to seek bids this fall on a roughly $17.5 million improvement project at New Terrell City Lake, where the dam is classified by two government agencies as “high hazard.”

The dam is not in imminent danger of failing, City Engineer Steve Rogers told Kaufman County commissioners earlier this week. The 50-year-old structure, however, fails to meet today’s data specifications for safety and performance.

As part of Texas dam safety program, two agencies agreed to classify the dam as “high hazard” due to the risk to life and property downstream should it ever breach. Studies show that a breach flood wave would be 13 feet high, and the maximum discharge would be 70,528 cubic feet per second. Breach studies indicate that 24 houses, Interstate 20, U.S. 80, State Hwy. 243, FM 2728, two county roads, and a Union Pacific railroad line would be at risk from a catastrophic breach. More than 55,000 vehicles utilize the highways and county roads daily. The government agencies that agree on the “high hazard” classification are the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

By leveraging $17 million in government grants, the city’s share of the project will amount to about $300,000, according to Rogers.

He appeared before the Commissioners Court to ask Kaufman County – one of nine sponsoring parties that include Henderson, Rockwall and Van Zandt counties – to sign on to the city’s grant application. Kaufman County and the other sponsors have been party to the project since 2011, according to Rogers. The sponsoring parties have no financial responsibilities; their basic role is to be kept in the communications loop, Rogers noted.

Still, the county’s legal department wanted to review the fine print before the commissioners court signs off on Rogers’ request, and commissioners took no action.

Built in 1955 as a water source, New Terrell City Lake is about six miles east of the city. In 1969, it was modified with a flood-control structure.

The city still maintains water rights at the lake and is permitted to draw 9 million gallons a day, although it purchases its water from the North Texas Municipal Water District.

“As time marches on it will become more valuable,” Rogers said of the lake.

Among other things, the dam project includes building a new principle spillway, widening the auxiliary spillway and raising the dam by four feet. The city hopes to see the two-year project begin late this year or early next, Rogers said.

Construction will require about 7,000 loads of dirt, much of which will be hauled from a 53-acre site near the southeast corner of the lake, said Rogers. The city understands its responsibility to restore any county roads damaged by the project, he noted.

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