Bridgeton officials will take action Tuesday on a pair of significant steps to restore a popular recreational lake that went dry more than two years ago because of too much water.
Heavy rains and runoff from storms swelled Sunset Lake in August 2010 so much it burst its dam and spillway, sending water gushing through its raceway to the Cohansey River.
That event drained Sunset Lake. Only a narrow channel of water now flows through its bottom, which is covered with grass and other vegetation. The rush of water out of the lake also carved away chunks of the raceway, essentially a drainage canal, and left it littered with toppled trees and other debris.
On Tuesday, Bridgeton City Council will award an almost $149,000 contract to the Salem County-based C & H Disposal Service Inc. to clear the raceway of the damaged trees and debris. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for 75 percent of the work, with Bridgeton paying the rest of the cost, Bridgeton Business Administrator Dale Goodreau said.
Also on Tuesday, Bridgeton City Council will authorize the advertising for bids to build a combination dam and spillway structure that Goodreau said will allow for better control of Sunset Lake’s water level.
The cost of that project is estimated at $3 million or $4 million, Goodreau said. The city’s insurance carrier will pay $1.5 toward the project, he said, with FEMA paying 75 percent of the remaining cost and Bridgeton picking up the rest of the tab.
Sunset Lake should begin to fill slowly once the work is completed early next year, Goodreau said.
“We’re anxious to get this going,” Goodreau said. “We will have a wonderful recreational facility again.”
Sunset Lake is on the border of Bridgeton and Upper Deerfield Township. The lake is ringed by homes nestled in its wooded shores and a part of Bridgeton’s expansive park system.
Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly said restoring Sunset Lake will allow the city to bring back events centered around the lake. One of those events is a triathlon that used to attract thousands of visitors to the county seat, he said.
Lakeside residents also are looking forward to once again having a useable body of water.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a while,” Upper Deerfield Township resident Vince Alibrando said of the restoration plan.
The 80-year-old Alibrando spent the past 30 years living along the lake. He said he spent a lot of time fishing and boating, until August 2010, when 14 inches of water flooded his home.
That was followed by the emptying of the lake, an event in which currents carried away his furniture and other possessions. Some of those remain on the lake’s dry bottom.
Since then, Alibrando said, he has dealt with different matters caused by the dry lake.
A certain times of the year, some of the vegetation growing on the lake bottom is covered with spider webs, he said. Strong breezes can blow lots of spiders off the webs and onto his property, he said.
Alibrando said he also gets to watch eagles land on the lake bottom and gather up grasses and other vegetation. The eagles use it to build their nests, he said.
All that aside, Alibrando wants his lake back, and he knows what he will do as soon as the water returns.
“Fish,” he said. “Maybe just boat around the lake.”
The August 2010 storms caused millions of dollars of damage in Cumberland County to lakes, dams, spillways and roads. Bridgeton ordered the evacuation of about 400 people as the Cohansey River began to rise and flow swiftly through the city.
The storm event left some parts of the county underwater for a significant period of time and sent cash-strapped Cumberland County government seeking financial help in making necessary repairs.
Goodreau said Bridgeton began working on how to restore Sunset Lake and its dam, spillway and raceway as soon as the storm ended. That resulted in discussions with FEMA and different plans, he said.
“There are a lot of regulatory issues that you have to satisfy,” Goodreau said.
Cumberland County government is working to repair a set of sluice gates at Sunset Lake, too, Bridgeton officials said.
Goodreau said those gates worked well until they became clogged with debris carried along by strong currents caused by the flood waters.
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