Mystery Lingers Around Dam Breach

BLYTHEWOOD – Answers to what happened to the dam that held back the now drained Dawson’s Creek Pond continue to be difficult to come by, but now a second witness has come forward claiming to have seen a work crew in the immediate area of the dam just weeks before the Aug. 6 breach.

Randy Eisenhoward told The Voice last week that he was driving by the dam one afternoon just two weeks before the break and saw two pickup trucks, a flatbed truck and a track hoe parked near the dam. There were several men at the site, Eisenhoward said, and the track hoe was in use, digging “right where the breach occurred,” he said. The pickup trucks were white, he said, and the track hoe standard yellow, but he said he was not able to identify any markings on the vehicles and was therefore not sure whom they represented.

Eisenhoward’s statement corroborates claims made by Dawson’s Creek resident Carol Peeples, who last week said she, too, had seen a work crew in the area prior to the breach of the dam.

“I don’t know if it was Richland County, the Department of Transportation or Santee Cooper,” Peeples said last week at a meeting with Mayor J. Michael Ross and Town Administrator John Perry. “But we saw workers in floating machines. Somebody has been out there digging. We need to know who was out there with that large equipment.”

A spokesperson for the S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) told The Voice late last week that no one from their department has done any work in the area since 2012. The DOT has also not issued any permits for right-of-way, the spokesperson said, something that would have been required for anyone working in the area.

“Some folks know they’re supposed to get a permit to work in the right-of-way,” the spokesperson said, “but others do work without getting that permit.”

The Richland County Ombudsman’s Office confirmed that their Roads and Drainage division was responsible for maintaining the creek, but said detailed records of any work performed would have to be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Last week The Voice submitted such a request, seeking records of any work in or around the dam performed or approved to be performed by Richland County. As of press time, Richland County had not responded to that request.

Following the breach, Peeples submitted a request for service to the County’s Roads and Drainage division. A document detailing the County’s discussion of Peeples’ request, generated after the County had examined the remains of the dam, states that the dam had been “dug out . . . This has caused the pond to drain.” But the document also claims that the County has not done any recent work in the area and is not responsible for the disappearance of the pond.

The 92-year-old pond drained in a matter of hours on Aug. 6 when the dam broke at approximately 9 p.m. and triggered a flash flood that blocked a portion of Highway 21 (Wilson Blvd.). The residents of the Dawson’s Creek community are now living with a view of an empty lake bed, which Peeples and other homeowners say is a health hazard. At the conclusion of last week’s meeting with the Town, Ross said that the Town would push to get the Department of Health and Environmental Control to come out and assess any potential health hazards related to the empty lake bed.