Plug Day 2021 arrived March 1 with the clang of virtual symbols and hoarsely whispered cheers from lake lovers and locals alike. After COVID-19 drove thousands of people to quarantine at Lake Martin in mid-March of 2020, anxious lake lovers looked forward to the dropping of the virtual plug at midnight on March 1 that launched the 50-day countdown to summer pool and the return to the lake for many.
Though pandemic restrictions continue to limit large gatherings, cancel some events and lock visitors out of some venues, many lake area restaurants are open and ready to welcome patrons for dine-in, carry-out and, in some cases, delivery. In addition, most local shop and boutique owners have remained open and look forward to greeting customers who return as the water level rises to full pool now through April 19.
On Plug Day, Lake magazine launched the annual 50-day Countdown to Summer Pool on social media with Plugmaster John Thompson, who is president of Lake Martin Resource Association. Big Fish sponsored this year̓s plug. Lake will daily promote activities, openings and events around the lake area with the help of Lake Martin Tourism Director Brandy Hastings, who will help lake patrons get plugged in to posted activities through articles and videos on social media and at lakemagazine.life and explorelakemartin.com.
In addition, Lake will host occasional merchandise giveaways through social media posts for the 50-day countdown, which is sponsored by Alabama Power. Lake will host full pool party plans for April 19 to help lake patrons celebrate when the rule curve (see page 9) hits 491 feet. Definite plans will depend on COVID-19 levels and vaccination progress closer to April 19, so look for information in the April issue of Lake magazine and on the Lake magazine website.
Full pool is achieved through the diligence and hard work of Alabama Power crews and personnel, including those on–site at Martin Dam where a major modernization project is in process and an aesthetic improvements project will begin soon.
The modernization project is taking place company-wide, while aesthetic improvements are planned as the dam that created Lake Martin nears its 100th birthday, explained Martin Dam Superintendent Travis Cheaney.
“The modernization process is taking place in all of our hydro plants over the next three or four years, as we upgrade equipment that was installed years ago,” Cheaney said. “Some of it is original, and some was replaced in the 1960s and ’70s. We’ll be replacing the things that will make them more efficient over the next 30 to 40 years.
“The spillway gates at Martin Dam were replaced last year, and the cranes on the spillway will be replaced next year. The engineering work for that project is being done this year.”
These capital projects are independent of beautification projects that are planned for the dam’s 100th anniversary, he added.
“For the anniversary, we will be painting windows of the plant, as well as inside ceilings and trusses and outside handrails,” he said.
An overlook observation deck on the east side of the dam was finished in 2019, and when the pandemic subsides, the deck could be opened during high flow spillway operations during regular business hours to provide viewers a unique perspective during flood times.
Cheaney, who was named superintendent about a year and a half ago, said operations at Martin Dam are very similar to those at other Alabama Power facilities, but Martin Dam receives more public interest in tours than any other facility where he has served.
“We still get calls from people wanting to know when the dam will reopen for tours, and like everyone else, we’re waiting for things to progress. Hopefully, the end is in sight,” he said.
Plug Day demands adjustments in the operations at Martin Dam, Cheaney said.
“Of course, we are always trying to utilize the water to the best of our ability. During winter months, when the water level is down, our operating groups in Birmingham watch the loads and peak times. Once it starts going up, they start watching how we generate, holding back as much as we can with the goal of making sure the lake gets full on time,” he explained.
Cheaney said that process is easier when the area has a rainy spring (see page 9 for weather predictions through the countdown).
“If it’s a dry year, we really have to watch and be adamant about when we can generate and hold back as much water as we can. We release what we need to keep the downside flowing, but with more outside interests here on Martin, it’s a high priority to get the lake full and keep it full,” he said.
But safety is the most important aspect of operation, especially during the busy summer season, Cheaney stressed.
“With the spring and summer months coming, it’s so important for people to have their personal flotation devices on when they are around the dams boating and during recreational activities. When drownings have occurred that could have maybe not happened if only for a PFD, it makes for a very sad situation for us. We have to talk with families about what happened, and it’s just very sad.
“At the dam, there are signs and warnings on the west and east sides of the dam. When you get to those signs that warn of potentially hazardous waters, you are close to the dam, and you are required to have a PFD on. It’s a law, and it is to protect the public. We are trying to take every precaution to keep people safe. It’s one small thing to do to give everybody the chance to enjoy the lake another day.”
Visit Lake magazine’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date with water levels during the countdown.