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Friday April 3rd, 2020 10:36PM

Georgia Senate panel approves new dam regulations

By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia could soon loosen safety standards for dams that sit above newly built homes, under a proposal unanimously passed by a state Senate committee.

Senate Bill 319 would allow for homes and other inhabitable structures to be built in a dam’s inundation zone — the area that would be flooded if the dam fails — without causing the dam to be recategorized and required to meet higher safety standards. The structures would have to be built to withstand a breach of the dam and receive certification from an engineer approved by the state Environmental Protection Division’s Safe Dams Program.

The bill's sponsor, Republican State Sen. Frank Ginn of Danielsville, said it would protect dam owners from having to choose between taking on costly upgrades or removing a dam. The proposal, passed Tuesday by the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, could soon go to the full state Senate for a vote.

Under current Georgia regulations, any dam with a home or other inhabitable structure in its inundation zone is considered a Category I dam, meaning its failure would result in probable loss of human life.

Category I dams must undergo regular inspections and meet certain requirements. A Category II dam is any dam that does not have inhabitable structures in its inundation zone, meaning that failure would likely not result in loss of human life. Category II dams don’t have to meet any regulatory requirements, though they are re-inventoried once every 5 years to ensure that the dam still exists and is still properly classified, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.

The proposal would essentially allow homes and other inhabitable structures meeting certain standards to be built in the inundation zone of a Category II dam without it needing to be reclassified as a Category I dam.

Sen. Tyler Harper, a Republican from Ocilla who chairs the committee, said that following requirements for maintaining a Category I dam “can be in some cases cost prohibitive.”

An investigation by The Associated Press released in November identified 1,688 high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of last year in 44 states and Puerto Rico. Georgia led the nation with nearly 200 high-hazard dams in unsatisfactory or poor condition, according to the analysis.

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