There was dancing in the streets in Berkeley Lake late yesterday - or at least at City Hall. The long-awaited news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would reimburse the city to repair the dam damaged in the historic floods of 2009 finally came.
"I'm so excited and so relieved," said the city's mayor, Lois Salter. "It feels like a huge load off of my mind."
The city's residents were looking at a $3.5 million repair bill for the dam if the federal funds had not come through. But getting FEMA to declare the city's claim as legitimate was a two-year journey for Salter, the council members, its city engineers and the citizens of the town's 2,000 residents.
"It's been a long, long road to get here," said Salter. That road would take city leaders through a myriad of engineering reports and studies, government agencies and even the U.S. Congress. "It's been a huge challenge, I never dreamed it would take this long," she said.
What this means to residents is the likelihood they'll see a reduction in their property taxes next year. "This takes a huge tax burden off of our citizens," said the mayor. "I expect council will be able to lower taxes."
The city had raised taxes by over 30 percent in 2010 and taxpayers had approved a $2.8 million bond referendum earlier this year to help fund the repairs in the event FEMA would not approve the city's claim for reimbursement of the cost of dam repairs.
In addition to FEMA funds, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) will kick in at least 10 percent of the repair costs. Salter said there is a possibility the agency will be able to increase the percentage of reimbursement costs.
It was a GEMA representative who called Salter late yesterday afternoon to alert her that FEMA had finally approved the city's claim for reimbursement. "The GEMA representative said he knew 'I was about to hyperventilate out here,'" she said with a laugh.
City leaders have already lined up pre-approved contractors to bid on the job and will meet with them on Monday. Salter said after council reviews the bids and selects a contractor the work will begin.
Work is expected to begin in October or November. The 88-acre lake will need to be drained to repair the dam. The process is expected to take approximately nine months. Along with the repairs to the dam, the portion of N. Berkeley Lake Road that runs along the side of the dam will be raised and a new drainage system installed that will run underneath the road.
In the meantime, the city will have to decide what to do with all of those fish in Lake Berkeley. Maybe a giant fish fry?