COLUMBIA, S.C. — A commander at an Army base in South Carolina contributed to a dam break and massive flood almost three years ago because he wanted a lake higher so his yard would look nicer, an employee at the base said in a deposition.
Workers put more concrete in the spillway of a Fort Jackson earthen dam about a decade ago, increasing the lake level and reducing the amount of water that could flow out of Semmes Lake, according to the deposition and other documents obtained by The State newspaper .
The dam was overtopped and then failed in October 2015 after about 24 inches (61 centimeters) of rain fell. The deluge combined with other flooding to damage dozens of homes in neighboring Columbia and kill at least two people.
Fort Jackson Department of Public Works employee Matt Shealy’s deposition doesn’t name the commanding general, and attorney Pete Strom doesn’t know who it is either.
Strom is suing the U.S. Army over the dam’s failure on behalf of residents of an upscale subdivision directly downstream. He is asking for $20 million in damages.
“What this proves is the commanding general was more concerned about the water level being high enough in his backyard than he was about his neighbors,” Strom said.
Fort Jackson has not responded to the deposition.
The Army tried to keep the documents under seal, but agreed to release them after the newspaper threatened to go to court.
Other documents released earlier include a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report after the flood that found rusted and broken equipment kept the Army from lowering the lake level before the storm, which was predicted several days in advance.
The dam was built and the 29-acre (12-hectare) lake was created in the 1940s. Houses for base officials were built along its shores.