$200 million to $300 million.
That’s what the Tennessee Valley Authority says it’s going to take to fix Boone Dam.
And “boo” and “unacceptable” were two of the outspoken reactions greeting TVA Vice President John McCormick when he outlined those numbers to the public Thursday evening.
During a community meeting at the Millennium Centre, the utility’s vice president of safety, river management and environment described how TVA will build a concrete wall in the earthen dam next to the concrete structure on Boone Lake. He said no rate increases were expected related to the fix.
The first of dozens of residents to address the panel of TVA vice presidents McCormick, Rebecca Tolene and John Kammeyer, fervently asked why it would take as much as seven years to complete the repair when projects like the Hoover Dam and the Empire State Building took less time.
Kammeyer said things are a lot different now than they were in those days, citing that the nonprofit TVA — the nation's largest producer of electric power — would have to wait for the completion of an environmental study before it can begin the heavy construction part of the project. Work of that kind is expected to begin in January 2016. The TVA says the seepage was discovered after a routine inspection in October 2014.
Other questions from the members centered around property values and businesses along the reservoir.
Several times McCormick began his response with a warning that the audience — comprised of several hundred — would not like the response. When asked about boats stranded along the shore and whether the TVA could temporarily raise the water levels above their new normal surface altitude of 1,350-1,355 feet, he said the safety of all involved, including those downstream of the dam, was the top priority.
“I will not bring the water level up until we know it’s safe,” he responded, before going on to say, “every expert tells me do not bring that water level up.”
Many questioners noted people on Boone Lake felt they had not been given sufficient time to remove their boats, questioning the TVA’s timeline of finding out about the seepage and alerting the public of what was going on.
“We didn’t understand what we didn’t know,” McCormick said.
Until construction begins on the earthen dam, where the seepage issue is, the TVA officials admit they won’t know exactly what they’re dealing with. But when pressed by a question, Kammeyer said he was confident about completing it within five years and within the estimated $200 million-to-$300 million window.
When asked if an unlimited budget would get the project completed more quickly, Kammeyer assured this was not the issue, but cited a difficult order of events to make the necessary repairs.
Kammeyer admitted there are technically cheaper fixes, but that the utility wouldn’t have much confidence in a fix like that.
“As bad as it sounds, five years is aggressive,” he said, pointing out that once heavy construction begins, around 200 workers will be at it 24 hours a day, seven days a week until the repair is complete.
Earlier in the day, the TVA President Bill Johnson briefed the press on the projected fix and said he appreciates the position of home owners and business owners affected by the long term drawdown.
“This will be a long and expensive project and we realize the impact it will have on those who live in the area, people who want to enjoy the waterfront property on the reservoir and those who have businesses related to the reservoir and a community at large which benefits significantly from the economics of this all,” he said. “We're committed to doing what we can to mitigate these problems.”
Tolene — TVA’s vice president of natural resources and real property services — fielded many financial questions from those who stepped up to the microphone and said their financial concerns would be recorded and considered in terms of possibly getting grants and loans from the TVA, though there were few concrete plans currently in place for financially relief.
The fix itself will consist of drilling hundreds of holes into the bedrock below the earthen dam, injecting grouts of various levels of viscosity to stop the seepage and, ultimately constructing a concrete wall several feet thick that would go between 250 and 350 feet into the earth. Johnson said that would create a fix “comprehensive and durable.”
Vowing to be as transparent as possible through the process, the TVA has assigned a full-time community relations person to work solely on this project and keeping the Boone Lake-area community as informed as possible. Various pieces of time line projects and figures related to the repair will be posted on the TVA’s website at www.tva.gov/boonedrawdown.
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