FEMA agrees to pay for Berkeley Lake dam repairs

BERKELEY LAKE -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pay much of the costs for repairs to the Berkeley Lake dam damaged by severe floods two years ago.

Officials have been in talks with FEMA for months, after an original ruling left the majority of the $3.6 million in repairs in the hands of the taxpayers of the small town, formed as a fishing village around the lake.

In fact, after the agency agreed to only give $68,057.47, the City Council voted to raise taxes to pay the expense and held a vote earlier this year to use bonds to finance the work, which could commence in a matter of weeks.

FEMA has now agreed to pay up to 75 percent of the costs, with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency chipping in for 10 percent more.

"We are so relieved," Mayor Lois Salter said, adding that homeowners have been frustrated since much of the water was drained two years ago. "Finally we were able to make our case in such a way that was very clear."

On Monday, Salter and engineers will meet with prospective bidders for the project, and on Thursday the city will begin the process of draining the remaining water.

With countless fish calling the lake home, Salter has been working with other cities to arrange for local cooperative ministries to get them for protein.

While the construction could be complete by the end of next summer, it could take years for rains and a natural spring to refill the lake, but FEMA's decision means the bonds could be paid back quickly.

Salter said it is too late to change the tax rate for citizens this year, but she expects the rate to go down in 2012.

"I feel like I lost 20 pounds," she said of the relief. "I'm real grateful."