The silly season has really gotten out of hand.
It was two weeks ago - two weeks - that three visitors from India, men here legally in America on work visas, were seen taking photos near Clarks Hill Dam.
The dam and its picturesque view are frequently photographed. But since the attacks of Sept. 11, the idea of dark-skinned men taking pictures of a potential terrorist target obviously drew more than the usual attention and caution.
Even hard-core opponents of racial profiling have been forced to admit the technique can be useful; 100 percent of the recent suicidal terrorists have been identified as men of Middle Eastern origin, so it stands to reason that men with similar appearance would get more scrutiny.
Thus, when a passerby reported seeing the three men at Clarks Hill, the Columbia County Sheriffs Office checked them out, and FBI agents swooped into the scene in a helicopter. Though somewhat startled by the attention, the men were cleared from suspicion and sent freely on their way.
The story should have died there, but it hasnt. Outlandish rumors continue swirling through the community, usually along the lines of the men being Arabs who were arrested while plotting an attack on the vast reservoirs dam.
Such an attack would, obviously, be bad news. Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker earlier this year released the results of an inundation plan charting the possible toll of a dam failure. She points out that more than 6,500 homes - mostly in the Evans area - would be endangered if the lakes waters were unleashed into the Savannah River all at once. More importantly, Tuckers plan includes guidelines for helping residents evacuate in such circumstances - something Richmond County lacks.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has boosted its security at all Corps dams because of such potential danger, and Clarks Hill is getting extra patrols from McCormick and Columbia County deputies. (The feds should fork over more money to pay for the extra attention, by the way.)
U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, a frequent critic of the Corps, nonetheless backs the agencys security efforts. These guys assure me that the entire region went on Delta Alert status immediately after the (World Trade Center) attack, the highest level of security, says Norwood. The Corps has moved vigorously to change security precautions to fully reflect our present state of danger from terrorist attacks.
Norwoods confidence is significant. Hes an Evans resident, and his own home would be flooded in the event of a dam failure.
With the exception of adding armed encampments, the dam is as safe as we can reasonably make it. Spreading outlandish stories wont make it any safer - and in the long run make us all so weary that well no longer come running when the little boy cries wolf.
Having failed to nip this story in the bud, those who hear it anew should tell the rumor-mongers: Go jump in the lake.
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