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Flooding causes damage
One road likely closed for weeks
2 Flood pic
The river bottoms along Hwy. 9 South at the Etowah were flooded Sunday. River Park, a county-maintained canoe put-in, was under nearly 5 feet of water. - photo by Jennifer Lyness Dawson Community News

Work crews have been out since daybreak Sunday assessing the damage and making repairs to areas across the county that felt the impact of heavy rainfall early Sunday.

With more than 6 inches of rain recorded in less than seven hours, officials said the county "weathered the storm well." That assessment came despite severe flooding along the Etowah River, which led to several road closures, and a sink hole near Ga. 400.
David Headley, director of Dawson County's public works department, said the sinkhole on North Georgia Avenue, a private road that runs south from Industrial Park Road to North Georgia Premium Outlets, grew substantially during the storm. It has the potential to drag utilities lines into the ground if not repaired quickly.

"It has gotten larger," he said. "The manhole that was in there has failed and fallen over, and there is a pipe section that is missing. So we're taking a real serious look at getting that done.

"Since it's gotten worse, something needs to be done before we have additional issues with utility lines that are there, namely the ... advertisement sign and the telephone pole."

Headley said the county is working with the property owner and Etowah Water and Sewer Authority on the project and to determine which party will be responsible for the repairs.

Brooke Anderson, authority general manager, assessed the size of the hole Friday and continued monitoring it throughout the weekend due to the weather forecast.

"The sinkhole has gotten much worse over the weekend," he said. "[Six] inches of rain in such a short amount of time has done massive damage to the area.

"The manhole area did end up collapsing, but we were able to enact pre-emptive measures and are now pumping around the damaged area."

He assured residents and merchants in the area that "there is currently no risk to public health or the environment."

Flooding also forced several roads to close, including a gravel section of Etowah River Road that washed away in the storm.

The section, which is accessible from Cothran Road and from Hwy. 136 on the north end, is expected to remain closed for several weeks, according to Headley.

"There are no residents that live in the area that is shut down. They still have access to their properties," he said.

At issue in rebuilding the shoulder and replacing the gravel section that washed away is that crews will need to work in the creek bed, which requires permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"I'm going to be in contact with the Army Corps of Engineers to have them meet me out there to see what we need to do to get this shoulder rebuilt, Headley said. "We're going to need to go through permitting with them.

"We're going to need to find out what's available to us, possibly from a funding standpoint and/or assistance from getting permitting right now."

Nearby Valley Road was also closed after a pipe that was set to be replaced later this year collapsed in the storm.

"We had that on our schedule this year to replace the pipe anyway, however, we were holding off on replacing that until DOT was going to be done with the intersection of Thompson and 53 and Etowah River Road," Headley said.

"We didn't want the citizens to encumber another construction site on the detour around the construction. We're going to have to go ahead and do something about it now."

There was also a mudslide Sunday on War Hill Park Road that closed one lane for a short time.

"The crews were out there and we removed the slide, stabilized the bank, and EMS went out and hosed the road down for us, so it was back open that afternoon," Headley said.

Aside from the mudslide and a number of calls for downed trees, Dawson County Emergency Services Chief Lanier Swafford said the storm "could have been far worse than it was."

"The first call we got was a lightning strike on a residence Saturday night about 11 p.m. on Dill Lane, off Lord's Way, when the first round came through, but there was no notable damage," he said. "We really didn't get any calls other than a couple of trees down."

Swafford said his crews spent much of Sunday following weather paths and monitoring the rise of the Etowah River meter, which crested about 2 p.m. at 15.9 feet. The water was flowing at a rate of about 3,000 cubic feet per second under the bridge at River Park on Hwy. 9 South.

"We watch that water level when we're having possible flooding and it was predicted to break all records, which fortunately it didn't get that high," Swafford said.

Still, the river bottoms along Hwy. 9 South at the Etowah were flooded, with River Park, a county-maintained canoe put-in, under nearly 5 feet of water.

A county native who's been in Dawson his entire life, Swafford said the last time he recalled seeing the Etowah so high was in 2004 with Hurricane Ivan.

"It was one of the fourth highest readings ... since the '40s on Sunday. I've seen it several times in my lifetime, but it's been a few years," he said. "It was more of a visual that everybody wanted to see."

Headley said the only real damage caused by the river bottom flooding was to a fence that was pushed over and to a truck that was left in the gravel parking lot overnight.

"We're not sure whose truck that is. Someone tried to push it up out of the water. It's still there today," Headley said Monday.

University of Georgia Extension Agent Clark MacAllister said there may also be extensive damage to several corn fields that sit in the river bottoms.

"As you're going down Hwy. 9 as it crosses the Etowah River, the cornfields on the left, those are just pretty washed out. It looks like some of the plants are still there, but one of the fields I know they just seeded last week," he said.

"The river bottoms are good. It's great corn land with a lot of nutrients, but you know that it can flood. That's just one of the downsides of it. It's great land but it will bite you sometimes. Some of those fields are just really flooded out."

With so much rain, MacAllister said it could take several days to dry out.

"And even after that, the ground's still squishy. It's still muddy and hard to get a tractor out in the field. Unfortunately, they are probably going to have to replant a lot of that," he said.

Substantial rain could also cause issues such as mold on agricultural crops.

"When it's too wet and moldy inside a hay bale, the temperature gets up real high and they can actually combust and burn a barn down," he said.

MacAllister said it's still too early to see the rain's impact on the local farmers.

"I haven't started hearing from them yet, but I'm expecting the calls to start coming in," he said.