On the morning of April 7, 1990, the Chemung County Sheriff’s Department received an odd telephone call. They were told that the lake behind the Sullivanville Dam had disappeared. They thought it was an April fool’s joke until they saw that the 26-acre lake was, indeed, dry. This strange occurrence brought up a whole host of questions. How was the lake drained? Who emptied it? Why did they do it? And, most importantly, would the lake be refilled by May 26 when the $4.7 million dam project was scheduled to be dedicated?
|Panorama of Sullivanville Dam, July 15, 2015|
In 1979 the U.S. Soil Conservation Service declared that no more flood control projects in the Newtown-Hoffman Creek Watershed program should be built because the cost of the projects, including the Sullivanville Dam, could not be justified by flood control benefits. While it was estimated that the Sullivanville Dam would significantly reduce flooding in Elmira and Horseheads, the $4.5 million cost would only result in an estimated benefit of $3.3 million.
There was also local opposition to the Sullivanville Dam. When the project moved forward again in 1984 local legislators argued that it was not cost-effective. For the project, Chemung County had to acquire a total of 230 acres of private land made up of 32 properties in the towns of Horseheads and Veteran including eight family homes. Several homeowner did not want to give up their homes and land, delaying the project further. Even as the bulldozers were starting to move earth in 1988, protesters were seeking a federal court injunction to stop construction. The project also forced a portion of Route 13 to be rerouted.
On May 31, 1988, after nearly 25 years of arguments and delays, a contingent of local, state, and federal officials ceremoniously dug the first shovelfuls of dirt. The U.S. Soil Conservation Service designed the dam and paid the Cold Spring Construction Co. of Akron, New York $4.73 million to construct it. Less than two years later, the dam was finished. Its official dedication was held on May 26, 1990 and, yes, the lake had refilled with water by then. Natural runoff and snow in the watershed refilled the lake in less than a week.
|Sullivanvilled Dam when it was completed, 1990|
|Manhole on the top of the dam|
|July 15, 2015|