Property owners at Lone Star Lake say safety ranks first, but they also enjoy the recreational benefits of the park.
It was sale closing day for a cabin at Lone Star Lake. Everything seemed in order, but the buyer developed cold feet when he learned about the lake's deteriorating spillway.
News of woes at the popular recreational area couldn't have been more untimely for Hedges Realty Executives.
The buyer backed out, worried about the Kansas Division of Water Resources' recent finding that the spillway's condition "may present a threat to the public's safety" and that the county planned to react by further lowering the lake's level.
Charles Hedges, president of the real estate agency and a property owner at the lake, said members of the Lone Star Lake Assn. are concerned about the spillway and what effect lowering the lake might have on recreation this summer. They're also worried about people who live downstream. The deteriorating spillway may eventually result in a breach of the lake's dam.
"I think a lot of us in the association were living under the misconception that things had been taken care of," Hedges said last week. "It really concerns me. Lone Star Lake is a well-kept secret, but it is used by a lot of people."
Hedges, a past president of the lake association, has owned a cabin there for 15 years that he and his family use year-round. Hedges estimated there are about 50 cabins around the lake and about 100 lots.
After the Division of Water Resources ordered Dec. 4 that the county "immediately take corrective action," commissioners discussed lowering the lake below winter pool level until the spillway can be repaired.
Public Works director Keith Browning said recreation on the lake undoubtedly will be affected.
Douglas County Commission Chair Tom Taul kicked around the idea of closing the county-owned lake, but the board agreed that would have a huge effect on property values at the park.
"If the lake were lowered a lot or drained, I think the values would be absolutely destroyed," he said. "People move there to be on the water, of course. I have a floating dock where I keep boats for fishing and swimming. My docks are sitting on the mud after the winter pool lowering. If they lower them another three feet, they'll be 50 yards from the water."
Neglects adds up
The spillway's deterioration is not a new predicament, though October floods didn't help.
In 1989, commissioners hired an engineering firm with the help of a $30,000 Community Development Block Grant to study damage at the spillway caused by the June 30, 1988, flood of the Lone Star area.
According to minutes from the commission's Jan. 18, 1989, meeting, "the spillway to the lake sustained considerable damage, rip rap was moved substantially downstream and further erosion appears to have occurred."
George Butler Associates presented conceptual design plans for repairs to the spillway on Oct. 2, 1989. The firm's report and drawings offered three repair options -- a single function spillway, a combination principal and emergency spillway and a separate principal and emergency spillway.
But the repairs, estimated to be from $700,000 to $1 million depending on which option the county preferred, were never funded.
Nine years later, the problem has gotten worse, and the cost to repair it likely will be more than it would have been in 1989.
Although a $1 million repair bill is still being kicked around, Browning says he won't know what the actual cost will be until he digs into the 1989 study a bit more.
"One of the things I need to do is update those costs," he said Friday. "It'll definitely be higher, but I don't want to say it's going to be $1 million times the inflation factor over the last nine years."
Although he's left correcting a problem the county knew about in 1989, Browning said that's just part of the job.
"Lots of times there are things that maybe should have been done ideally several years ago that couldn't be done because of fiscal reasons," he said. "That doesn't mean that when you have to deal with them after a number of years that you've inherited that, it's just part of the job. For example, we've got bridges that it would have been nice if they had been replaced maybe 10 years ago. But they weren't able to be replaced, so they're still out there."
Former county commissioner Louie McElhaney, who was on the board in 1989, recalls that "we had the money to do the engineering portion of it, but we didn't have any money to do the construction portion. The recommendation from the engineering department was that it would hold for a while, and they would keep an eye on it for a period of time to see if it was deteriorating."
McElhaney remembers visiting the lake and examining its spillway
"It had a lot of washout at that time," he recalled. "It did have some wear on it, but it didn't look to me like it was going to give way overnight."
Malcolm Burns, president of the lake association, lives full-time at Lone Star in a new home built after tearing down some old cabins and starting over.
Elected as president in 1992, Burns had had a cabin at the lake for years. Construction of his new home started in fall 1996.
He said he hadn't been aware of problems at the spillway until the commission announced the Division of Water Resources' findings Dec. 7.
Glen Sohl, a Realtor at Hedges and vice president of the lake association, primarily a social group, said the spillway is not just a concern for property owners of the area.
"The people who live there and own property around the lake or on the lake are only a small part of the community of Douglas County," said Sohl, who lives at the lake full-time. "The citizens of Douglas County are the ones who benefit from Lone Star Lake and having our own waterway that we recreate on, sail on, swim in, fish in is a great opportunity. The lake is unique because we have all those opportunities there."
Although concerned about recreation next summer, Sohl points out that "public safety comes first, recreation comes second. I think it's unfortunate that 10 years ago when we knew there was an erosion problem we didn't take care of it then."
If the county doesn't want a lake, as suggested by Taul, maybe private developers could buy it and develop it, Sohl said.
"There's lots of possibilities out there," he said.
-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.