EGG HARBOR CITY — In the hopes of preventing the Egg Harbor City Lake and Campground from losing its prime attraction, City Council is applying for a federal hazard mitigation grant to rebuild the main dam and the bulkheading around it.

The project has a projected cost of about $600,000, and the city’s 25 percent share would be about $150,000, said Council President Ed Dennis.

The sluice gate on the dam is leaking and can’t be closed completely, said Dennis. While it could be opened to handle a large rain event, “we’re afraid we’ll open it one of these days and it’s not going to close again,” Dennis said.

If that happened, the lake would essentially drain away. It would be terrible for the city, which owns the lake and campground, said Mayor Lisa Jiampetti. So officials have decided not to manipulate the gate to avoid such an outcome.

“About 7,000 to 8,000 people a year use the lake,” she said, generating revenue for the city and giving residents and tourists a place to swim. Fees at the lake alone generated $51,000 for the city last year, she said.

There are no homes in the direct path of the water, just woodlands, said Councilman Pat Moran, who heads up parks and recreation. The creek water comes in from Mullica Township and heads toward Clarks Landing Road to the Mullica River through wooded areas, he said.

In August 2010, a much smaller secondary dam on the lake failed and water levels dropped by about 5 feet before an emergency repair was complete, at a cost of $35,000.

The inability to open and close the gate when needed has meant water has already overwashed the bulkheads around the main dam, said  Jiampetti. A 2011 inspection of the concrete and timber bulkheads showed they have been cracked and compromised.

“The water comes over the top and washes out all the sand from the parking lot into the creek,” Jiampetti said. The erosion has left the hard-packed sand parking lot with dozens of deep holes.

City Council has submitted a letter of intent to apply for about $600,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to rebuild the dam, its sluice gate and bulkhead.

“Now we wait to see if we qualify,” Dennis said. “We should hear sometime in March or April.”

If qualified, the city would be invited to complete the grant itself, he said.

If approved, the FEMA grant would cover 75 percent of the cost, said Dennis. The city would have to pass a bond ordinance to cover its $150,000 share, he said.

The city would also have to go to the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Pinelands Commission for approvals. He wouldn’t expect the bidding process to start until the fall or early next spring.

The lake has become a positive attraction in recent years, after Jiampetti initiated new policies such as an annual cleanup day to improve the area, when she headed up parks and recreation as a councilwoman.

May 4 will be the sixth annual cleanup day at the park, with volunteers picking up litter from the lakeshore, camping area and hiking trails.

For the last few years, the city has contracted with Pomona RV Park and Campground, in Galloway Township, to professionally manage the campground. The company pays the city 10 percent of its earnings. Last year, the campground generated $30,000, and the city’s share was $3,000, Jiampetti said.

Since the campground has been professionally managed, the lake alone is now generating more income for the city than the lake and campground did before, she said. Both the city and new manager have made improvements to buildings such as the restrooms and camp store.

“Years ago, it was badly managed and there was a lot of rabble rousing. Nobody wanted to come here,” Jiampetti said. “Now this place is packed in summer.”

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:

609-272-7219