Editorial: Thankful for failure of project

Dec. 01, 2012 @ 03:02 PM

There’s no shortage of failed projects that have led to greater outcomes. The 60th anniversary of Kerr Lake is certainly a qualifier.

Had the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan been followed from 1934, a series of 17 small dams would have been constructed on the Roanoke, James and Dan rivers in Virginia. How well that would have prevented the millions of dollars of damage from 1940 flooding is up for debate.

Instead, the confluence of the Rural Electrification Act from 1935, emerging hydropower through the Southeastern Power Administration and the Flood Control Act of 1944 met with a North Carolina congressman on the House Appropriations Committee. John H. Kerr also was chairing a subcommittee overseeing the corps of engineers, which was in the infancy of becoming a resource management and recreation arm for the government.

Kerr was a Wake Forest University law school graduate who practiced in Warrenton, served as its mayor and eventually as a Superior Court justice. He was a UNC trustee and popular appointment to Congress following the death of Claude Kitchin in 1923.

He didn’t have the warmest support for the project that would bear his name and encompass more than 800 miles of shoreline and 83,000 acres. But the Pick-Sloan Act had included $36 million for construction, putting the project’s opponents at a disadvantage before they truly realized the debate.

Construction began in 1947, dedication was held in 1952 and it fully opened in 1953. Today the lake and dam are functioning as intended, controlling flood possibilities and serving as recreational resource.

Ironically enough, Kerr was defeated in the spring primary by then-state Sen. Lawrence Fountain of Edgecombe County just months before the dedication ceremonies in 1952.

For all the talk of strangely shaped redistricting today, that one included eight counties extending from Warren east to Bertie, and as far south as Lenoir.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Virginia had gotten 17 dams during the Great Depression, or if the flooding of 1940 had not influenced support for Pick-Sloan. What we do know is millions enjoy the benefits of the lake and the protection by the dam.

And it makes the outcome of a failure one for which to be thankful.