WHITE LAKE — Just hours after water treatment was halted this week because of an unusually large number of fish dying, Bladen County commissioners and the town of Elizabethtown both voted to dedicate money and letters of support to the town for its cleanup efforts.
“Today, we encountered problems with regard to having fish die at the lake,” said White Lake Mayor Goldston Womble on Monday. “From all the information we have at this point, the process began several days prior to starting the alum treatment, and we don’t think the alum had anything to do with the fish kill. That’s what the scientific folks are telling us.”
Regardless, treatment was halted, and the state is currently conducting testing, the results of which the town is supposed to learn this week.
White Lake began aluminum sulfate treatment last week to lower the pH in the lake and improve the clarity of the water. A Florida company was tasked with the job, and town staff have previously said the company has “the greatest amount of expertise in the country” at this type of work.
“We feel like if we hadn’t started treatment, the fish kill would have been worse than it is, because algae had gotten so plentiful in the lake that it’s causing problems,” Womble said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue (alum treatment) and get the lake in good shape for the summer season.”
Womble said the lake has been in need of attention for some time.
“White Lake has become a lake out of balance in recent years with algae blooms and regular reports of dead fish,” he said. “It is likely the fish kill was coincidental with the timing of the alum application and caused by the very high pH levels resulting from the algae bloom — (but) we look forward to the swift resolution of the state’s concern and for the project to resume.”
The treatment comes with a hefty price tag. With more than 20,000 gallons of alum already discharged into the lake, and with the process now roughly halfway done, the town expects to spend upwards as much as $500,000 when it is finished.
Having not received any financial help from the state, the town is applying for a $600,000 grant to offset the cost. A 10-percent local match is required, along with letters of support. Monday night, both the Elizabethtown Town Council and the Board of Commissioners approved financial support and letters of support on behalf of the town.
“White Lake has always been in a good relationship with Elizabethtown,” Womble said. “On a regular basis, the towns do things for one another … and we’re always glad to do that. Most people here realize what is good for one is good for another … . We feel like both the town of Elizabethtown and the county benefit from the lake, as it contributes tax dollars and saves tax dollars.”
Elizabethtown Mayor Sylvia Campbell concurred.
“We all love White Lake,” she said. “It’s probably our greatest natural resource in the county.”
Elizabethtown approved sending a letter of support and will bring a budget amendment to the next meeting to approve $10,000 for the local match. The county vote unanimously to contribute $20,000. White Lake is expected to cover the remaining $30,000 of the local match.
“We’re confident that it’s going to get better,” County Chairman Ray Britt told the media on Monday. “It will get done and it will get done right.
W. Curt Vincent is the editor of the Bladen Journal and Chrysta Carroll is a staff writer. They can be reached at 910-862-4163.