Lake Martin Economic Impact Study
Realizing the need to determine the importance of Lake Martin to the area, in 2009 Lake Martin Resource Association commissioned a study by Robert Charles Lesser Co. to ascertain the economic impact of Lake Martin to the surrounding cities and counties and thus the State of Alabama. RCLCO is recognized as the largest independent real estate advisory firm in the U.S.
Led by LMRA, a coalition of seven Lake Martin organizations came together to engage RCLCO to research both the current economic impact of Lake Martin and the potential for future growth. The analysis also considered the impact if the lake was at full pool for a longer period of time—April 1 thru October 15. This would result in a 62 percent increase in the full pool usefulness of the lake. The participating partnership consisted of the City of Alexander City, the Elmore County Commission, Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance, the Tallapoosa County Commission, Middle Tallapoosa River Basin Clean Water Partnership, Russell Lands, Inc. and LMRA.
This study was extremely useful during the Martin Dam relicensing process and was used to present to the Committee on Water Policy and Management, a permanent committee established by the Alabama Legislature. There is no doubt that LMRA and the other participants have found many additional uses for this data and it will be addressed many time in the future. We invite you to review the report by clicking the link to the left. A complete report is available by contacting LMRA at 256-212-1422.
Martin Dam Relicensing
Alabama Power Company
The operation of Martin Dam is under the control and approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Alabama Power Co. (APCO) performs the operating functions under a license granted by FERC. The current license will expire on June 1, 2013. Alabama Power began the relicensing process in 2007 and LMRA was fully involved in the process. The task was to consider all the implications of shoreline management, project operations, fish and wildlife, recreation and water quality and quantity.
The water level being of primary interest to our membership, in 2008 LMRA formally requested an early spring fill (April 1 rather than May 1), an extension of the 491‘ msl level until October 15 and a higher winter pool level. Studies and modeling by APCO showed both favorable and unfavorable results on behalf of our proposal. After many studies and input from all interested stakeholders, in June 2011 APCO filed its Final License Application (FLA) request with FERC and recommended the following:
- No early spring fill
APCO’s studies indicate a substantial increase in the possibility of downstream flooding with an early spring fill.
- Conditional fall extension of higher water levels
APCO has proposed a formula containing several components that trigger the fall extension but the formula depends upon having sufficient rainfall and inflows to meet the desired water level. APCO estimates that the formula would provide extended fall water levels approximately 25 percent of the time.
- Winter pool level of 7-foot drawdown (rather than 10-feet)
APCO’s studies show little difference between a 6-foot drawdown and a 7-foot drawdown.
Obviously, LMRA did not receive all that we requested. We understand the reasons for no early spring fill and believe that no amount of appeal will result in any changes to this request. A higher winter pool level, however, will cause the spring fill to start from a higher level. Therefore, by default we should see some improvement in the spring water level. LMRA has carefully reviewed the formula for the conditional fall extension and we believe its components are too restrictive. We have met with APCO officials and we believe the formula can be adjusted to provide higher water levels in the fall a greater percentage of time. APCO officials have agreed to review their studies and the models for the fall extension. Of course, if there is insufficient rainfall, no formula will produce more water in the fall. The bottom line is that there must be sufficient rainfall and APCO must have sufficient water in its reservoirs to accomplish its required minimum flow releases.
We also consulted with APCO officials regarding the 7-foot drawdown in the winter. The studies reflect that a 6-foot drawdown can be accomplished without negative impact to any elements of the lake. This additional 1 foot of water during winter months would greatly increase potential for lake activity and economic impact to the lake community. Therefore, during the comment period as permitted by FERC in 2012, LMRA will address the 6-foot vs. 7-foot winter drawdown as well as the “conditional fall extension”.
FERC will then have 2 years to study the request and is expected to render its decision in June 2013. Until that time, Lake Martin will continue to be under the operating guide that was established in 1978.
You should know that a group of downstream landowners believe Lake Martin should be operated solely as a flood control reservoir. Those landowners have advocated controlled releases of water from Lake Martin in anticipation of a predicted rain event to prevent downstream flooding of their property. The fallacy of their position is that weather prediction still is not an exact science. If APCO releases water from Lake Martin in a controlled manner in anticipation of heavy rain, and the predicted rain fails to materialize, the water would be lost and it is unlikely that the lake would recover that year. If these stakeholders convince FERC that pre-evacuation of the lake should be a license requirement, lake property owners would see drastic changes in the lake level and the potential for lower water in spring and summer.
These same downstream landowners sued APCO for money damages for 2003 flooding. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that APCO has no obligation to prevent floods in the downstream flood plain. The downstream landowners are using the Martin Dam relicensing process to try to convince FERC to do what the Alabama Supreme Court refused to do, that is, to impose anything more than seasonal flood control responsibilities on APCO. The position of the downstream landowners puts the recreational use of Lake Martin at serious risk. LMRA will take all necessary action to see that the Final License Application will protect the interests of lake property owners. To make a strong point of the views of LMRA members and lake property owners, LMRA met with elected officials in Washington, D. C., in November 2011 to give emphasis to our interests.
This has been a long, difficult and expensive undertaking and LMRA is pleased that we have reached this point in the process. We recognize that there are some stakeholders who are not satisfied with the recommendations in the FLA. We also recognize that the final decision on the water level of Lake Martin is still a long way into the future. After the comment period, stakeholders will have the opportunity for legal intervention. LMRA is prepared to take legal action if necessary and will make every effort to protect the interests of our membership. You will not see any change in the license requirements for the water levels until all appeals are final. APCO is still operating by the guidelines that have been in existence since 1978. We believe our members want higher water levels over an extended period of months and LMRA will continue to work toward that objective. Even though there is some satisfaction with the results of the FLA, we believe there is still an opportunity to make improvements. LMRA will continue to work toward that objective.
Lake Martin in the Flood Plain
In November of 2008, FEMA, in conjunction with Alabama Office of Water Resources (OWR), published an updated flood plain map for the portion of Lake Martin in Elmore County. The updated map resulted in all property touching the water being considered in the flood plain. Property owners in Elmore County began receiving notices from mortgage companies that flood insurance would be required and were given 45 days to secure insurance or the mortgage company would place it for them. The mortgage companies were following recommended guidelines in verifying that properties touching the flood plain did not have residences in danger of flooding. The property owner’s alternative to obtaining flood insurance was to demonstrate to FEMA by a survey of the property that no dwelling was in the flood plain. Either of these alternatives was costly to the property owner. After much discussion and after the revision of flood plain maps for Elmore, Tallapoosa and Coosa Counties using LIDAR mapping techniques, property owners now have a clearer path of addressing the flood plain issue. The flood level on Lake Martin has been established at 493-feet. Local insurance companies are prepared to issue flood insurance for Lake Martin properties. This is less expensive than having your mortgage company force the insurance on you. Therefore, if you are required to purchase flood insurance, we recommend that you take the appropriate action before the 45 day period expires. To assist with the process and provide answers to the many questions, we urge you to contact Ken Meredith at Office of Water Resources ( 334-242-5499). Mr. Meredith will provide the forms needed and explain how to complete them. His help will be invaluable is assisting you through this process.