A group of Cullman County residents who own property adjoining Lake George have asked for the city's help in repairing a major leak they say is causing the water level in the lake to recede at an alarming rate.

Members of the Cullman Utilities Board, which owns the lake, along with the mayor and members of the City Council, have asked the more than 100 residents who own property around the lake, which is located about three miles north of city of Cullman, to consider annexing into the city.

Both groups are scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. today at the City Hall auditorium to discuss both options.

"The primary objective of all of this is getting the dam fixed," said Danny McAfee, a Cullman business owner and Lake George resident. "The dam has had a leakage problem for many years, and it's getting worse every year."

Lake George once served as Cullman's primary water source prior to the construction of Lake Catoma in the 1960s. The lake today is used primarily for recreation and fishing.

McAfee and a group of Lake George property owners approached the Cullman Utilities Board earlier this year and asked for any assistance they could provide to determine the severity of the problem along with a possible solution.

"The board told us they had a diver scheduled to check a situation at Lake Catoma and they agreed to ask him to dive at Lake George and check the damage, which he did," McAfee said. "An engineering company estimated the cost of repairing the leak ($150,000), which would require draining the lake. The city offered to shoulder the cost if the property owners would agree to come into the city and that's where we are. The purpose of this meeting is for both groups to get together and discuss what annexation into the city would entail."

McAfee said he would definitely come into the city if officials agreed to repair the dam.

"If we did that, I'd like to see the city agree to maintain the lake's boat launch area," McAfee said. "I'm sure there are some other things that need to be discussed and that's the whole purpose of this meeting."

Council President Woody Jacobs, who is also a member of the utilities board, recalled the January meeting attended by McAfee and others.

"They came to us concerned about the lake losing water and during that meeting we discussed the possibility of them creating a subdivision on the lake after which the residents could hold a community referendum and vote on whether or not to annex into the city," Jacobs said. "If that were to happen I think the city would definitely look at repairing the problem with the dam. At the same time we would also work with homeowners who would be interested in building walls at the water line. Draining the lake to make the needed repairs would give them the opportunity to do that and some other things, and the group seemed receptive to that."

Jacobs said the price tag on determining the extent of the damage is approximately $10,000.

"The city has already invested some money," Jacobs said. "Engineers are proposing that we install a pipe inside the pipe that is leaking and also install a valve on the lower side of the dam in case we ever need to drain the lake or control the lake level. It is also recommended that the intake structure where you draw the water in be knocked down. That will help the looks of the lake and it will also improve safety since kids like to play on the concrete structure located adjacent to the boat ramp."

Unlike a street paving project in the city where residents who own property along the roadway can be assessed the cost of the improvements, the city cannot legally assess the cost of repairing the leak at Lake George to those property owners because they reside in the county.

Green said the residents he's talked to are open to discussing the possibility of annexing into the city.

"I see a lot of positives on both sides," Green said.

Lake George resident Ken Samp, isn't convinced it's the only option, let alone the best option.

"I definitely want more information and I have a few questions I like to ask such as what will happen to the fish and the blue heron that live on the fish in that lake if they drain it?" Samp asked. "Also, about half of the people who live on my street (County Road 1335) live on the lake. If we annex, half will live in the city and half in the county. What happens then as far as police and fire protection."

Samp also questioned the need to drain the lake to make the needed repairs.

"They didn't have to drain the ocean to repair the levees in New Orleans. It seems like overkill to me. I'd like to know if that's the only alternative," Samp said. "Also, once they drain it and we have to pay extra charges to have the leak repaired, will the city charge people to use the lake? Will those who don't own property adjacent to the lake have free access? Will those who annex into the city have to pay for street upgrades, curb and gutter? What about sewer service? There are a lot of questions we need answered."

There may also be federal wetlands issues to consider, Samp said.

"Once you form a body of water are there wetlands issues that obligate the city to maintain that lake? What about safety? If the lake is allowed to dry up, wouldn't the 40-foot drop-offs create a safety concern, especially for children?" Samp asked. "I'm also not sure who we're trying to make the lake better for. If it's the fisherman who use it, maybe they need to help pay to fix it."

Samp said the main question he hopes to have answered tonight is "what's the benefit for me to come into the city of Cullman?"

"To be honest, I don't see that much of a benefit," Samp said.

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