Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan President of the Berkeley Lake Homeowners Association Bryan Stuart poses for a portrait on the shore of Berkeley Lake as the dam rehab project is still underway on Friday. On March 9th Stuart, volunteers and members from Boy Scout Troop 26 helped make Stuart's pontoon the first pontoon boat to float on Berkeley Lake in over a year. Locals have and will come together in the upcoming months to restore the fish habitat as the Berkeley Lake dam rehab project continues.
BERKELEY LAKE -- It started with a flood. Now the rains are again standing between Berkeley Lake residents and the restoration of their beloved lake.
"It's very frustrating," Mayor Lois Salter said in February of the delay in completion of $4 million in repairs, after flooding in September 2009 caused the dam to be deemed unsafe.
The rainy winter has caused delay after delay, with Salter saying this week that the contractor has packed up for now, waiting until after the April showers to finish the last portion of the work, which requires a span of dry days long enough to install centipede sod to protect the dam from erosion.
"Weather has forced a change of plans on the dam. We had expected to be completely finished by now but the rains have not allowed any span of dry days sufficient for (the installation)," Salter said in an email. "We have decided to protect the dam with erosion control measures and then demobilize until late April or early May when the weather will be less rainy. At that point we'll need about a week of repairs and a week of sod installation to finish."
But residents keen on a renaissance for the lake that grew the community from a summer vacation spot to a tight-knit town have been anxious to get back on the water.
"We should have had some champagne to break over the pontoon, as it is a momentous occasion having enough water to 'launch' a boat," said Bryan Stuart, president of the Berkeley Lake Homeowners Association who had help from a neighbor's four-wheeler and a Boy Scout troop to get his pontoon back in the water last weekend.
There isn't enough water yet for much joyriding, but Stuart said he was excited to get the boat out of the mud.
While the contractor waits to finish up the dam work, the entire community has come together to try to make sure the lake is in even better shape for when the water rises.
"When the lake was drained, it became very obvious that the lake bottom didn't have adequate fish habitat," Stuart said. "Efforts then got under way to consult with the Department of Natural Resources, and other agencies to see what is the best way to construct habitat, and to also leave the natural habitat such as the weeds that have grown on the lake bed. Weeds that pose a threat to swimmers, provide hazards to navigation and are in water 10 feet or less will be removed."
About 50,000 catfish and bream were stocked in the lake last month, and during March 65,000 bluegill and minnow will be added, said Steve Seitz, who has undertaken the fish habitat project.
He organized a volunteer project last weekend -- where 142 bags of canned goods were collected as well to donate to the Norcross Cooperative Ministry -- and several more are planned coming up.
"These volunteer activities present the opportunity for friends and neighbors to come together to give back to the community along with providing teaching moments for all age groups,' Seitz said. "Adults and kids working together to assist in creating "Habitat for Fisheries' and setting examples how a community working together can make a difference. These simple gifts to the lake's ecology the provide enjoyment for generations to come."
Stuart said the support from neighbors is what makes the community special.
"One of the unique things about living in Berkeley Lake is that we tend to come together on any given occasion, but especially when times are tough and volunteers are needed," Stuart said. "We enjoy each other's company, and tend to celebrate our friendships while accomplishing great things such as restoring the lake bed with habitat."