Fifteen years after being washed away, Hearn's Pond to get makeover

By Lynn R. Parks

Fifteen years after it was washed away in a torrent of water, the dam at Hearn's Pond is getting a complete makeover. When it is finished, it will be the first of Delaware's 41 dams to meet the state's dam safety regulations, put in place in 2009.

State Rep. Daniel Short was among dignitaries who spoke at the pond Monday morning, to announce the project. "This is a good investment in the well-being of our residents and the protection of our heritage," he said. "It will safeguard downstream residents, help preserve the 19th-century mill and protect a local recreation spot." More than 10,000 anglers visit the pond every year, making it the seventh most heavily fished pond in the state.

"This project is a long time coming," Short added. "Dam!"

The $4.2 million project will take about a year to complete. It will be overseen by two state agencies, the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). The agencies were trying to figure out which one owns the structure, Barry Benton, a bridge engineer with the Delaware Department of Transportation, said. "Then we realized that it didn't matter," he said. There is no question that the dam belongs to the state, he said, and trying to trace specific ownership was just causing delay.

The current spillway, 12 feet wide, will be replaced with a 100-foot spillway, to allow more water to flow through. The new spillway will be covered with articulated concrete block instead of grass, the covering for the current spillway.

At the conclusion of the project, the water level in the 66-acre Hearn's Pond will be about a foot lower than it has been. Already, it is six inches lower than it was.

"I don't think that anybody can argue with the idea that this dam should be No. 1 on our list," Benton said. When the dam failed in 2001, water rushed downstream, threatening the dam at Williams Pond in Seaford. The nearby LifeCare at Lofland Park nursing home had to be evacuated because of the danger of flooding.

The project includes stabilization of the historic Hearn and Rawlins Mill building that sits next to it. The mill, built in the late 1800s, produced White Dove flour and cornmeal for more than a century. It was purchased by DNREC in 2013.

Already, the state has installed steel I-beams in the building's foundation. Cribbing, or wide columns made from 6-inch wooden timbers, also helps to shore up the building. Seismic detectors mounted on the building will monitor vibrations created by the construction project, to make sure that the building isn't under too much stress.

The I-beams and cribbing will remain in place even after the dam project is completed.

David Twing, DNREC dam safety engineer, said Monday morning that the dam that originally created Hearn's Pond was built in the early 1800s. Likely building materials were logs and cribbing, covered with earth, said Heidi Krofft, DelDOT archeologist.

The extension where the current spillway is was put in in the late 1800s or early 1900s, Twing said. It has two 5-foot gates in it that can be opened to allow water through. "That's not a lot of capacity," he said.

In August 2001, 13 inches of rain fell on the Seaford area in the course of 24 hours. The dam washed out completely and Hearns Pond was completely drained, flooding nearby alternate U.S. 13. The dam was rebuilt in 2002.

Then in 2006, the area got 15 inches of rain over 24 hours. The dam was overtopped with water and the rebuilt portion was partially washed away. As they were in the 2001 flood, residents of LifeCare at Lofland Park were evacuated.

The dam was rebuilt in 2007. A 2011 storm caused the dam to be overtopped again.

Susan Messick, who lives on Hearn's Pond Road, was at Monday's briefing. She said that area residents are pleased that the dam project includes work on the Hearn and Rawlins Mill building.

A long-time member of HearnsPond Association for its Protection, Preservation, Enhancement and Naturalization (HAPPEN), Messick added that the group hopes that the mill is fixed up to the point that people can visit. They would like for it to be similar to Abbotts Mill near Milford, which is owned by the Delaware Nature Society.

Bridge engineer Benton said that the state hopes to rehabilitate one dam every two years.

Next on the list is the dam at Records Pond near Laurel.

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