The Harrison City Council looking to change Lake Harrison back to creek

Published: Feb. 7, 2020 at 3:17 PM CST
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Lake Harrison isn't the largest of its kind. The man-made body of water is small, but some fear it's also dangerous.

"I guess it really got started after we lost John and Amy Villines in that tragic accident. People really started talking about Lake Harrison," said Ken Reeves, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission chairman.

The Villines died when floodwaters swept their car away in November 2018. Crews drained the lake to try and find them, but their bodies remained missing for more than two months.

That drew the city's attention to concerns with the lake.

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission call the low dams, like the one in Lake Harrison, drowning machines. If someone were to go over the dam at certain water levels - they could be pulled under."

"They probably would not survive because on the downside of the weir it creates a tumbling effect, and they might stay under for a long long time," Reeves said.

But wildlife groups aren't only worried about the dam's risks. Thursday night, The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas showed the city council some of the other consequences of having the lake, including unwanted pests, like geese.

Plus, it costs the city more than $30,000 a year to clean.

"And so that's why again it's Harrison's decision as to what those benefits or costs are with this project," said Darrell Bowman, the assistant chief of fisheries with the AGFC.

The Harrison City Council could vote to turn the lake back into a free-flowing creek. It's an idea the mayor seems to support.

"The fact that we'll have free-flowing clean, clear water almost all the time is just real exciting to a lot of people," said Harrison Mayor Jerry Jackson.

But some people think it would be a mistake to change things now.

"The lake has become a central part of the city of Harrison," said former Mayor Pat Moles.

A final decision won't come for a while. First, the council will need to decide if it wants to spend $10,000 to study designs and costs of the project. Some say that's a low price to pay for safety.

"The city has placed something into existence that's a death trap. That we now know has issues associated with it. We know how to fix it. We need to start with spending $10,000," said Jim Gresham, the former Harrison city attorney.

The next Harrison City Council meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 26 at 6 p.m.