After efforts spanning more than a generation, the end is in sight for residents of Timber Lake. A referendum victory at Tuesday’s election gives the Timberlake Watershed Improvement District the power to levy a tax and incur indebtedness or issue bonds — necessary to cover the costs of dredging Timber Lake, hoping to reverse decades of damage and compounded sedimentation that threatens its health.
Tuesday’s election was the second and final referendum required, with the first held Nov. 5. Conducted by the Robert E. Lee Soil and Water Conservation District, all 156 landowners in the watershed improvement district were eligible to cast a ballot Tuesday. The referendum required the approval of a two-thirds majority of landowners owning at least two-thirds of the total land area in order to pass.
About 89% of voters, or 120 people, voted “yes” to allowing the improvement district to levy a tax, and about 91% of voters, or 122 voters, voted “yes” to giving them the power to incur indebtedness or issue bonds. The referendum did not stipulate how much the tax would be or provide any parameters for debts or bonds.
Robert E. Lee Soil and Water Conservation District Campbell County Director Doug Perrow called it a terrific voter turnout and stressed they have surpassed every requirement of the referendum. About 83% of qualified voters cast their ballot in support Nov. 5.
This election follows years of efforts to form a watershed improvement district. Residents in the area started researching what it would take to form a watershed improvement district for Timber Lake following a 1995 flood that broke the lake’s dam and killed volunteer firefighter Carter Martin and area resident Doris Stanley, said DD Gillett, president of the Timberlake Homeowner’s Association.
Later, heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding would act as a wake-up call — like the 2016 floods that felled a number of trees into houses and into the lake. Community members started meeting in earnest in June 2016 and formed a watershed improvement district team for the Timber Lake area. But Gillett said it “lacked administratively” in the ability to collect taxes to put toward lake improvement efforts — namely, dredging the coves to remove silt buildup that flows into the lake.
But Gillett stressed the fight to dredge Timber Lake has been going on for even longer than that.
A.C. Whitehead has lived on the lake almost her entire life. Whitehead, along with Gillett and fellow Timberlake Homeowner’s Association board member, Beth Knabel, camped outside the Timberlake United Methodist Church where votes were cast Tuesday, bundled in jackets against the cold.
Whitehead said she can remember her mother fighting the same fight to dredge the coves 30 years earlier.
“We do not want another College Lake,” Whitehead said, referring to the disastrous flood event at Lynchburg’s College Lake in August 2018. “If this passes, then we’re on our way.”
Gillett remembers the first generation of efforts to save Timber Lake — people who have died since the fight began.
“This finishes what they started,” Gillett said. “There is a legacy here that we are excited to fulfill. It’s going to change the future of Timber Lake.”
It hasn’t been easy, she added. This is the first vote of its kind in Campbell County, according to Perrow.The next step will be to find a lender in order to move forward with the dredge, Gillett said. She hopes they will be able to begin dredging by late February or early March. The project is estimated to cost about $550,000.
In the coming years, she hopes to focus on retaining the lake health — studying what is coming into the lake, where it is coming from, nearby retention ponds and storm water runoff control.
“This has been 30 years in the making.” Gillett said. “Just like we’re protecting the lake, we’ve got to protect this process now.”
Since the Timberlake Watershed Improvement District has begun its efforts, Gillett said they have heard from other communities around the state — those interested in preserving the lakes that they, too, call home.
“There’s not a season on our lake that isn’t absolutely beautiful. There’s not a day in my life on the lake that I don’t go out in the morning, let my dogs out and just stand there and marvel at what we have,” Gillett said. “Without the lake, it would just be a house. The lake is the heartbeat of this community, and we’re going to fix it.”
Sarah Honosky covers Appomattox and Campbell counties at The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5556.