By Adam Powell
In August, the Town of Chapel Hill sought written statements of qualifications (SOQ) from engineering firms as it moves forward with plans to drain the water from the existing pond at the Town’s property at 1714 Legion Road.
The 35-acre, heavily wooded property, which was purchased by Chapel Hill from American Legion Post 6 for $7.9 million back in 2017, sits along a collection of streams and stream buffers that make much of the land inhabitable from a development standpoint. It has sat largely vacant for decades and remains a source of curiosity and fascination from local residents as one of the last large-scale undeveloped pieces of property in Chapel Hill.
Plans have been discussed for a large community park on the property, but much of the land remains undeveloped. Save for some community-sponsored pollinator gardens and other environmentally friendly initiatives, little has changed on the property for decades.
According to a 2022 The Local Reporter feature on the former American Legion property, the Town of Chapel Hill had not taken up the issue of 1714 Legion Road in an official capacity since a work session in February 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation.
A man-made pond of approximately 2.5 acres is located on the northwest corner of the property. The 20-foot adjacent earthen dam creates an intermittent stream that serves as a tributary to nearby Booker Creek.
On August 10, the Town of Chapel Hill sent an email to residents and concerned citizens with a series of bullet points discussing the dewatering of the Legion Road property’s pond and potential plans to either repair or remove the dam on the property.
“The Town of Chapel Hill seeks written statements of qualifications (SOQ) from professional Engineering Firms (Consultant) specializing in Design Services, Engineering Services, Regulatory Coordination, and Administration Support, and Permitting Services as they relate to the Draining of the Pond, and either repair of or removal of the dam, specifically located at 1714 Legion Road, Chapel Hill, NC,” read the Town’s request from engineering firms.
According to background information provided with the SOQ request to engineering firms, the earthen dam that creates the pond on the Legion Road property is failing due to erosion at the outlet piping site and tree inclusion below the crest. A subsequent series of reports compiled by Town officials determined that the hazard associated with the dam failure be classified as “high,” based upon potential economic impacts and public safety for locations downstream of the dam.
“The town is seeking a consultant firm to provide the technical expertise and regulatory guidance to be able to drain the pond to better assess the hydrological impacts and provide post-drainage administration and design solutions for the Town to determine the ultimate outcome for the pond area within the overall property,” reads the Town’s engineering request. Chapel Hill request for engineering services – 1714 Legion Road.
“The consultant will then develop the construction documentation to let for a site/civil contractor to perform the physical construction work for the chosen alternative as well as provide the permitting and construction administrative oversight for the project.”
This means that the town is seeking a civil engineering firm or individual who can design a plan that can be contracted out to drain the pond, while also making repairs or removing the damaged dam.
Along with the technical expertise needed to complete the project, the Town sought an engineer with an understanding of the unique nature of this historic property and its significance to Chapel Hill residents, as well as someone who can navigate the various environmental and logistical hurdles needed to complete draining of the pond.
The statements of qualifications request seek someone with “familiarization with the site and historical documentation, including review and assessment of the previously developed reports and cost estimate information,” in addition to someone who can oversee the “development of the regulatory pathway needed to drain the pond; including all federal, state, and local requirements, jurisdictional determinations, and filings, along with timelines associated with the individual steps.”
According to Ross Tompkins, Strategic Operations Manager, Town of Chapel Hill, “Until we have an approved permit, there will be no work done to the pond.” Check the Legion Property project for more information.
Adam Powell is a reporter on local news and sports and an education communications professional. A 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Powell has served as managing editor of multiple local publications, including the Mebane Enterprise, News of Orange County and TarHeelIllustrated.com. The public information officer for Rockingham County Schools in Eden, N.C., Powell is the author of four books and lives in Mebane with his wife and two children.