Plan to raise water level causes problems for railroad

Published 5:56 pm Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Now come go with me to “yesteryear” as we go up on the “pond,” where things were really buzzing with excitement about the long anticipated raising of Lay Lake, which would double its size. In the winter of 1967, the completion of the big project of raising Lay Dam was was ready, but there was a problem looming that not many people knew about, in the form of a 2000-foot railroad that crosses the lake and can’t be moved!

But let’s first go to Okomo, a little place that was suddenly getting lots of attention. Folks, I knew Okomo! Just 11 miles north of Lay Dam (we called it Lock 12 in those days), Mr. Albert Guy of Alabaster remembered when his family had a farm there before they originally raised the water—No, I don’t go back that far, but I have some fond memories of this place growing up. I remember that Okomo was more like a village with a large lodge. Everything was painted green, the same green as the cottonmill village where I was born. The week of July 4th, the mill would shut down for the workers’ “vacation.” Okomo was made available to the workers during those “hard times,” the times that make me so thankful my hard working parents never let me know how tough things were! We would all gather and celebrate the holiday—not any fireworks, this was during the war—but lots of shooting guns and occasionally a stick of dynamite and sometimes a dance at the lodge house. Boats were made available for the men to fish—mostly trot-lines, of course. I was allowed to go with my Dad. We paddled the boats, and maybe someone would have an old motor.

The children played on the old railroad trestle. The train ran once a day back then so the ladies could take the train to Sylacauga shopping for groceries. It’s amazing how little it takes to entertain people if they want to be entertained.

Back to late December 1967: What did the raising of the water level and the Okomo railroad bridge have in common? A federal court ruling stands in the way of raising the water level that would at least partially cover the bridge, meaning, of course, no rail service but also making it impossible to navigate boats! The train was only running once a week by now!

L&N Railroad petitioned FCC to abandon the railroad, and the federal judge kept postponing his ruling. The power company is ready to raise the lake and do what they do best: making electricty. Lots of frustration on the part of the property owners as they were building new piers, etc.

After months of delay, the court finally handed down a temporary decision. They could remove one section, intact, temporarily, and if he rules against L&N and APCo, they will have to replace it and raise the bridge over the lake. Wow! There were no other options. The power company was losing money wasting the water over the flood gates. They wanted to make some “juice!”

Stay with us know as we attempt to float A 205-foot, 335-ton bridge span to shore and tie it off!