Before the Rocky River Dam there was no Lake Secession. The original area was scenic, green and hilly with the run of the Rocky River winding south towards the Savannah River. In 1938, a private company began the construction of the Rocky River Dam to generate and sell power. After a couple of torrential rains and flooding along the Rocky River the project went broke and was up for sale. In 1940, the City of Abbeville bought the project and it was completed as WPA project in 1940.
Lake Secession is the reservoir formed by the damming of the Rocky River. Lake Secession covers 1,425 at normal pool level and has a storage capacity of 25,650 acre-feet. The lake has a maximum length of 6 miles and a maximum width of 5,000 feet. The area downstream of the Rocky River Dam is a backwater reach created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (COEs) Richard B. Russell Dam on the Savannah River. Situated approximately 14 miles upstream from the Rocky River Dam is Lake Broadway impoundment.
The project at Lake Secession is owned by the City of Abbeville with the city owning all reservoir property up to the high water mark of 548 feet. Maintaining its original construction, the dam powerhouse contains two turbine generator units rated at 2,000 kilowatt (kw) and 800 kw, respectively.
The Quiet Years
As the years passed and the generators hummed, Lake Secession sat quietly on the Rocky River. The population along the reservoir was sparse with mainly summer cottages scattered around the lake. Fishing was good on the quiet lake. The weather, for the most of the years was favorable with heavy rain during the winter months and spring, making for excellent generation conditions. And so it was forty-eight years.
Then on August 5, 1988, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ( FERC) issues Order No. UL 88-31 finding the City of Abbeville's hydroelectric project on the Rocky River to be subject to the Commission's jurisdiction and requiring the City of Abbeville to apply to the Commission for a license to continue to operate the project.
During the next nine years the City of Abbeville spent over $650,000 preparing to secure an operating license from FERC. During this time the city conducted a number of environmental and engineering studies to learn more about Lake Secession and the Rocky River Dam. The year round residential population had grown tremendously making it one of the fastest growing areas in Abbeville County. The number of docks on the lake, both new and old, had grown.
December 1, 1999, the City was awarded a 30 year license to operate the Lake Secession hydroelectric project.
The Article and Conditions of the License
The City of Abbeville had thought that once the FERC License had been received that its expenses would be greatly reduced. How little did we know. Along with the 30 year license came 21 Articles and 17 conditions that had to be implemented at a cost of over $180,000. (Annex for a detailed listing of Articles and costs). In addition, the City of Abbeville has to pay the US Government an annual fee of $2,100 to operate the project. Not to mention all the other incidental repair and maintenance items.
While all this FERC business was going on, the hydro plant was experiencing some difficulties of its own. The weather patterns began to change and the much needed rainy weather dried up. Over the past two years the City has lost over $400,000 worth of electrical production from the dam. The City has reduced its work force, at the dam, from five to three personnel to help offset the loss. The City is also required to reduce its generation in the spring to help assist in the fish spawning season. Furthermore, a growing number of lake residents don't want the City to draw the lake down to generate energy for the city.
On January 28, 1992, the City instituted a Lake Management Plan, as required by FERC, and required a one time dock registration fee of $10.00. The City clearly stated that this was a "one time fee but, if new requirements were placed on it by FERC, there were probably be a yearly fess of some sorts." The December 1, 1999, FERC License and its Articles would serve as the catalyst for an annual dock fee.