Time taking toll on historic dam

January 27, 1997


Staff Writer

The historic dam on Antietam Creek at Devil's Backbone Park is showing signs of wear and tear, according to dam safety experts from the state Department of the Environment.

As a result, they're asking local officials to take a closer look at the dam, located off Md. 68 in Washington County.

County Engineer Terrance McGee said the state does a cursory inspection of the dam every five years. When they looked at it recently, they noticed some stones had been dislodged.


The dam, as it is now constructed, dates back to 1910, McGee said. Other records show that a dam at the same location served Booth's Mill, which was located across the road, in the late 18th and 19th centuries, he said.

McGee said the county has no inspectors for dams, and recommended county parks and recreation director Ron Kidd put money in his Capital Improvement Projects budget to cover the cost of hiring a firm to do a detailed inspection.

Kidd said he told the county recreation and parks department advisory board on Jan. 2 about McGee's request.

He said he didn't put money in the parks department's capital budget for the dam inspection project.

The money will have to come from elsewhere, he said.

"They (the board) felt that was not a program we could get Open Space funds for," he said.

"Besides, they feel it isn't our river that runs through there - that it shouldn't come out of our budget," Kidd added. "They feel it's more of a department of highways project, and should come out of the county's Capital Improvement Projects budget. If the dam goes, it will spill out over the road."

Kidd said if the dam collapsed, parts of the park also would end up under water. "But we're used to that," he said. "Every time it floods now, our park goes under."

The dam is classified by the state as "low-hazard," meaning that its collapse would not be likely to result in loss of life or serious damage to homes, McGee said.

He said there aren't any inhabited homes downstream from the dam that would be affected should it collapse.

He said it would take severe stormwater flows to breach the dam. If it did collapse, the only people threatened would be people fishing or picnicking downstream. He said it would be unlikely that anyone would be in the park in such a storm.

"The major problem would be environmental," McGee said. "If the dam was breached, it would send big rocks and a wall of silt and mud downstream."

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