Little bug causes big problems

Published 5:36 pm Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It was 1967, and one of the things that got my attention as the power company was clearing the land that would double the size of Lay Lake was that they simply left some of the trees standing to be semi-covered with water.

I was told that was done for “fish harbors.” They served that purpose well, making for perfect fishing.

But I was thinking, what’s going to happen when the trees die and fall over, making boating hazard just as effective as a “fish harbor?” Who is responsible for making that call? I was told the Federal Wild Life Commission. Wow! Here we go with that “government waters” stuff again.

One thing is very sure, it wasn’t that easy when the power company was clearing the riverbed to make Lay Dam in 1913. The company was following all the complicated rules from the health department about disposing of the trees to be left behind, and people were complaining about all sorts of things: unhealthy odors, stagnant waters, and, most seriously, creating a breeding place for mosquitoes! Of course, this was the time of the dreaded malaria fever. The power company was warned that a mass of lawsuits was to be filed.

Law offices were set up all along the way, just to handle these cases against the power company, especially in Shelby, Talladega and Coosa counties—all wanting to get in the not-so-deep pockets of the power company.

The power company was extremely concerned. The first two cases ruled in favor of the plaintiff. This could cause a rush and financial problems, as already 700 cases were reported.

We are talking about one of the biggest projects in the country at this time, and at one point, the camp near the present site of Lay Dam housed a little less than 1,500 people, not only making it the largest metropolis between Birmingham and Montgomery but the most cosmopolitan, with its diverse demographic of workers, such as Italian and Swedish people. All of this upset by a little mosquito!

The hearings were getting underway, and the power company needed a “big hitter” for their side, someone well known, and then someone thought of General William G. Gorgas, surgeon general of U.S. Army! Why not go to the top? But would he come down from Washington?

Gorgas just happened to be a friend of Thomas Martin, president of Alabama Power Company, and it didn’t hurt that the general was a native of Alabama. He had done lots of study on the mosquito and malaria and was an “unimpeachable authority.”

A world renowned expert presenting his case in such a manner that everybody understood, he explained the mosquito that carried the disease was one of very poor flight (an estimated 800 feet) and could never fly as far as from the lake to any of the homes in question. His information showed that it was the unsanitary conditions of the home and not the lake that was breeding the dreaded mosquito.

Way to go general, sir! Now lets make some “juice!”