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December 25, 2012

THE TIMES’ YEAR IN REVIEW (NO. 7): A decade later, Duck River breaks ground

Editor’s note: Breaking ground on the Duck River Dam is what many officials consider a gateway to the future for residential and business growth.

After more than a decade of fits and false starts, history was made this July as officials finally broke ground on the Duck River Dam — more than two decades after planning first began to make the secondary water source project a reality.

Throughout its long life, the project has been plagued by legal challenges, political wrangling and a vocal minority of community opposition. It’s taken some time, but now local governments are in agreement and the environmental challenges have been settled.

Duck River is happening.

Project coordinator Dale Greer has been with the project virtually from the beginning, when Duck River was one of several options considered by the city and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers in the 1990s.

Standing at a podium at the groundbreaking earlier this year, Greer said it was hard to believe the project had finally come to fruition.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the twists and turns this would take over the years ... but we will be set up, now, to guarantee our future water supply,” Greer said. “Some people were affected more than others, and to the property owners, I want to say publicly how much we appreciate your personal sacrifice and we’re so thankful for what you did.”

The Cullman Utilities Board, along with the City of Cullman and with the cooperation of Cullman County and other area water systems, is creating a 640-acre lake with a 32-million-gallon-per-day capacity in northeast Cullman County. The project is estimated to cost $68 million, and once complete the new lake will work in conjunction with the area’s current sole water source Lake Catoma.

Site work began several months ago with Birmingham-based Brasfield and Gorrie, and excavation of the site is well underway.

The utilities board invited numerous local officials to the groundbreaking, staged in a large white tent at the edge of the construction site, including U.S. Congresmman Robert Aderholt.

“I applaud the city and county for working together to make this a success,” Aderholt said at the time. “Officials really had their ducks in a row, no pun intended.”

Cullman Mayor Max Townson, who admitted to being a bit skeptical himself about the necessity of a new lake, said the drought of 2007 remains a stark reminder of what can happen to a community without a secondary source of water.

“We’re supposed to be good stewards, and I believe this is proof that we are being good stewards,” he said. “I’ll never forget 2007, when Cullman County came the closest it has ever come to running out of water.”

Townson also commended former Cullman County Commission Chairman James Graves for his decision to drive the county government to sign on with the project — despite push back from two former associate commissioners.

“James Graves stepped up and did what was right for this county,” Townson said at the time. “I myself even questioned the need for a second water source, but you come to understand once you go through something like we did in 2007.”

Mike Wilson, with the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, was among the original team involved when the project began in the 1990s. It may have taken longer than expected to get to this point, but Wilson said he never lost faith in the need for Duck River.

“Originally, we were actually looking out at Flint Creek, but then we recognized the best option really was right here at Duck River,” Wilson said. “I didn’t think it’d be 2012 — I thought it’d be the late 90’s — but we’re here.”

Standing in the audience while the current administration posed for photos and spoke about the project, former mayor Don Green knew all-too-well the sacrifices it took to reach this point. Green helped shepherd the project through the turbulent early 2000s as mayor, and said he was proud to see it begin in his lifetime.

“We felt like this was a good project in the beginning, and as it finally begins now, we still feel that way,” Green said. “The Corps. of Engineers, and private engineers, said it was the best option. It took a while to get to this point, but it’s great to see it come together.”

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