After an inspection showed the need to replace the 60-year-old chains, the federal power agency decided that draining the lake down below the dam’s spillway crest was the easiest and most efficient way to carry out the work.(Nathan Baker/ Johnson City Pre
Boone Lake will drop 14 feet below its normal winter low point this year to allow Tennessee Valley Authority workers to replace the heavy chains and cables used to control Boone Dam’s gate system, and the agency’s officials are warning boaters and resident to use caution.
For the first time since the dam was built in 1953, the 280-feet-long intake gate chains and the spillway gate cables will be removed and replaced, which means TVA needs to put the Boone Reservoir in a deep drawdown to be able to access.
“Because we’re doing a deep drawdown, we don’t really know what’s going to happen with some of the shoreline and some of the marinas,” TVA Vice President of River Operations John McCormick said Thursday at a media conference. “We want to make sure we give an opportunity for the folks around here to get their boats and equipment out of the water, so they aren’t damaged, and also to give them the opportunity to do shoreline or dock work.”
After an inspection showed the need to replace the 60-year-old chains, the federal power agency decided that draining the lake down below the dam’s spillway crest was the easiest and most efficient way to carry out the work, because it limits the need for trained scuba divers.
Chuck Bach, TVA’s General Manager of River Scheduling, said the drastic reduction in the water level should be easily noticeable.
“Typically this time of the year, we do what we call our fall release, where we start bringing the river down, and we bring it down to a level of 1,362 (feet above sea level),” Back said. “We’re going to go 14 feet deeper than that. To help people put this in perspective, back in 2007-08 when we were in drought, we went down to 1,356, so we’re actually going 7 feet deeper with this drawdown than we did back then.”
In order to bring the reservoir down to the target level of 1,349 feet above sea level, the TVA will gradually release water through the dam, then quickly drop it for a few weeks in January when they hope to complete the work.
Then, the lake will slowly be filled to, the agency hopes, reach normal levels again in time for the summer recreation season.
“We’re going to try to do it very effectively and efficiently and finish up the wire rope piece in two weeks, and then we’ll start to fill the reservoir back up to hold it at the level we need to finish the intake chains,” Bach said. “If all goes well, and mother nature cooperates, we plan to be able to fill the reservoir back up and have it at full summer pool by the typical May timeframe.”
Although he encouraged boaters to take their crafts out of the water, Bach advised anyone using boats on the lowered lake to be wary of underwater obstacles that may be much closer to the surface when the water is dropped.
With more of the lake bottom exposed than ever before, historical artifact hunters may view the drawdown as an unprecedented opportunity for searching for arrowheads and early American treasures, but archaeological specialist Erin Pritchard warned any would-be diggers that removing artifacts from federal land is a crime.
“When TVA came and built these dams, lots of archaeological sites, thousands and thousands of them, were inundated,” Pritchard said. “When the drawdown occurs, it’s going to expose sites that are not normally exposed to the public, so TVA wanted to remind the public that it is against the law to remove artifacts, to excavate, damage or destroy archaeological sites on federal property, and that does include TVA land.”
She said TVA security agents and local law enforcement will partner to regularly patrol the shoreline and deal with offenders as warranted.
Depending on the severity of the case, Pritchard said a first offense under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act could be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, but a second offense conviction is an automatic felony.
Leaving the artifacts in their place serves to pay respect to the descendents of the land’s former inhabitants and protects the context, or the full picture, of the sites, she said.
The dozen gate chains, weighing a total of 70,000 pounds, were already delivered to the dam and are awaiting installation.
They were fabricated by Renold Jeffrey, a company with a manufacturing facility in Morristown, Tenn.