A proposal by Reston Land Corp., which has erected most of the planned community of Reston, to turn over ownership of dams on two of the town's scenic lakes to the homeowners' organization has touched off an increasingly bitter dispute in the community.
Some Reston residents say they are not convinced that the dams on Lakes Thoreau and Audubon are safe and will not need expensive repairs and upgrading to meet new state regulations. The earthen dams, both located on the upper end of the Snakeden Branch of Difficult Run, have leaks and may be in danger of failing if a massive storm hits the area, they argue.
In the normal course of events, Reston Land, a Mobil Oil subsidiary, turns over open space areas to the homeowners' group as they are developed, said an official of the corporation. The Reston Home Owners Association (RHOA), owns and administers all of the community's open space facilities.
Studies of the dams by Law Engineering Testing Co. of McLean and a Georgia consulting engineering firm, Sowers & Associates, were commissioned by Reston Land. The investigators, who have just completed their reports, found the dams are structurally safe, that seepage at both is not abnormal and is not a threat to the the structures, and that the chances of dam failure and flooding are remote, according to George Sowers.
The reports have not reassured some residents, and the Fairfax County government's engineering consultants, the firm of Gannett, Fleming, Corddry and Carpenter, have been asked to inspect the studies and report to the county supervisors.
Fairfax Supervisor Martha V. Pennino, whose district covers Reston, said that the state Water Control Board has given "very little time and thought to Reston's three dams." She said the board is obligated to order maintenance plans be submitted to it by operators of dams. The board also is required to ensure that the plans are adequate and that they are followed, she said.
The state board has received studies of the two dams and is reviewing them now, said Robert Gay, chief of the board's dam safety section. Under regulations now being promulgated to implement the state's Dam Safety Act of 1982, owners of the Reston dams will not be required to submit an application for an operation and maintenance permit until July 1 or later, Gay said.
The homeowners association has scheduled a public forum on the dams for Feb. 11 in the Langston Hughes Intermediate School in Reston, said Vicky Wingert, director of open space administration for RHOA. Representatives of engineering firms and consultants will be available to answer questions, she said. The RHOA directors will consider the question of the dams at its Feb. 24 meeting, but Wingert said she does not know whether the board will make a decision then.
Some Reston residents "have serious reservations about accepting the dams now," said Stephen Siciliano, head of the South Lakes Village Council. He argues that the state could order owners of the dams to make repairs to bring the structures up to new standards, at a "cost of millions of dollars."
"Our real problem is that we have a kept homeowners association [that is] controlled by the developer, [Reston Land]," said Siciliano. "We should tell Reston Land that we won't accept the dams until they are brought up to standard."
The developer occupies five of seats on the nine-member RHOA board.
One outspoken critic of the dams, Frank D. Baxter, argues that the dams don't meet recently stiffened state requirements, and that as many as 300 to 400 homes near the lakes could be endangered by floods. He disputes the engineers' view that the massive downpour that would be required to overwhelm the dams is unlikely ever to occur.
RHOA council vice-chairman Susan Jones said the group is studying the dams issue now "to make sure the dams are up to standard." She added that the engineering studies were done by "one of the most reputable firm in the county," and that George Sowers is "one of the foremost experts in the country."