Chandler's Mill Pond Dam

Photo by J. Paul Welch

Since the dam at Chandler’s Mill Pond got compromised back in 2015, the saga that resulted has been an endless source of puns, jokes, annoyance, and more plot twists than the ‘Vince Russo’ era of Professional Wrestling. The two biggest swerves came from the storms in November 2020, and the recent deluge that saw Route 3 and many other parts of the Northern Neck get utterly inundated by what has been described as a 200-year flood, both of which caused great damage to the dam. This was especially galling to many, since the dam had been completed for some time before the November rains, essentially pulling the rug out from under everyone.

Ever since then, people from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (previously the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), the folks responsible for the operation and maintenance of the structure, have been working on trying to get the whole mess fixed up, while trying to avoid being the proverbial man in the ring that gets whacked from behind with a folding chair. Last week, in fact, Ryan Brown, the Executive Director for VDWR, dropped by the Montross Town Council meeting to give some background on both his role in this particular saga, and what was going to be done about the whole mess.

According to Brown, he had assumed the mantle of his office just as the project here was nearing completion, with no inkling of just how many headaches and surprises the dam, and the pond it created, were about to cause him.

“When it was completed, I never envisioned that one day I’d be in front of the Town Council talking about it,” he stated, “But of course we know fate had something else in mind.”

According to Brown, the primary concern with regards to the operation of the dam is to not impact Route 3, since it’s pretty much the region’s artery and lifeline. This was why the pond was drained back in November after the it overflowed and covered Route 3, and why the project has now been fast-tracked. The repair project for the November damage was slated to begin in July, but then, the June rains happened.

“I happened to be here that Friday, down the road, and not once did it cross my mind that Chandler’s Mill Pond would impact Route 3 again,” Brown explained to the Council, “We thought that with all the spillways open, the drain valve open, and an empty pool, that there was no chance that would happen, but then we got nine inches of rain.”

This is what led to the dam getting what amounted to another spillway eroded onto it when the water overflowed the dam. Brown has since hired a second engineering firm to take a look at the dam and see what needs to be done. “We’re also moving to have some emergency work done quickly,” he continued, “We actually had a contractor on site from the area with our staff to take a look at some temporary measures we can put in place to keep us from worrying about impacts to Route 3 during hurricane season.”

The plan, at this point, is to create a new auxiliary spillway and remove the mesh netting that allowed for all the dead plant matter to accumulate like it had back in November. The new spillway will be made by cutting down through the dirt all the way to the sheet pile level, concreting over it, and then riprapping behind it. The end result of this is that it should, in theory, keep the dam from completely inundating Route 3 like it had previously. Areas that were damaged will also be shorn up and the spillways cleaned up. With any luck, that will prevent a repeat of the flooding.

“Lastly, we have to close this project out,” Brown finished, “You’re sick of hearing about it, and so am I. Once everything’s in place, we’ll look at finishing this once and for all. We’re going to be working with VDOT, the community, and many others while we do that. We want to make sure that whatever we put in place is the final solution. I’d be happy to come back here on a lot of subjects, but that dam is not one of them unless it’s to say the thing’s done. The community has waited years for the project to be done.”

According to Brown, state procurement processes can take a bit of time, which was why the repairs were scheduled for July. Thanks to the emergency situation being declared by Brown, however, they should be able to act much quicker. Any future developments in the story will be sent in letter form to Montross Town Manager, Patricia Lewis.