Vintage Lake Isle Masonry Dam To Finally See Long-Sought Repairs

By GEORGE DRAPEAU III – April 18, 2023

EASTCHESTER, NY—Infrastructure rebuilding in the region took a major step forward when it was announced this month that federal and state monies are on the way to restore and upgrade the Lake Isle Dam here in southern Westchester. Repairs are sorely needed for this vintage, 128-year-old masonry dam, which is one of 400 in the state rated as high hazard.

“The physical, economic and community impact of a break in the Lake Isle dam would be massive,” commented New York State Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) when the campaign to fix the dam took flight in 2020-2021. “It would gravely affect Pelham, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and Eastchester. It would also flood the Hutchinson River Parkway—with ‘flood’ being an understatement.” State Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers) was also instrumental in securing money from Albany.

Long overlooked for restoration, the dam will now see much of the nearly $11 million cost needed to fix the facility come from a variety of sources: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-Yonkers) secured $2.6 million from the federal government to pay for engineering studies and design work; another $4.1 million from New York State; and Westchester County Executive George Latimer pledged to fill in the funding needed for the project.

Sen. Mayer said, “I am very pleased I was able to secure $2.1 million in state funding from the New York State Senate for Lake Isle Dam, with the leadership of NYS Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins…This joint effort led to the resolution of an enforcement action by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and will result in structural improvements to the dam. The funding that was able to be secured in total is a good example of all levels of government working together to improve our infrastructure and to solve potential legal problems to benefit homeowners and our communities.”

In an email to CONSTRUCTION NEWS, a spokesperson for Westchester County Executive George Latimer said a recently completed engineering report by Mott Macdonald is now being reviewed, and the estimate cost for repairs is $10.9 million. The county said it will continue to explore all sources of federal and state funds, working with Congressman Bowman, Sen. Meyer and Rep. Paulin. It is also exploring if any of the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act, which was approved by voters in November, would be available.

From left, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, State Sen. Shelley Mayer, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, State Rep. Amy Paulin and Eastchester Supervisor Anthony Colavita gathered in June 2021 by the reservoir spillway at the Lake Isle dam in Eastchester, NY, where they vowed to address long-needed improvements to the now 128-year-old masonry dam. PHOTO CREDIT/GEORGE DRAPEAU III

“Partnering closely with all levels of government, we are excited to see this project continue to move forward,” Mr. Latimer said. “This report is the next step in determining what needs to be done to fix this long standing, and often debated, problem facing the residents in the immediate path of the dam. I thank our partners in government who all understand what needs to be done and are also eager to make it happen.”

In its present state, the dam is an amalgam of beauty, with its old-world charm that adds a stunning touch of gilded-age heritage to lower Westchester. But it is also an example of an aging public works facility that has long outlived its useful life. Classified as a high-hazard dam by the state, the dam’s failure could result in death and destruction downstream.

“Although a break isn’t imminent, we can’t wait until another once-every-100-years weather event happens to take action—especially since, given climate change, these types of events are happening with much more frequency than once every 100 years,” Rep. Paulin added. Lake Isle is surrounded by some 50 single-family homes and more than 85 townhouse condominiums. The 62-acre lake holds back some 190 million gallons of water – enough water to fill Olympic size swimming pools that would stretch, end over end, from the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge in Ulster County.

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