Sooner than later maybe, but still a long way away.
That was the gist of a media tour of the repairs being done on the earthen dam on Boone Lake Thursday afternoon. The Tennessee Valley Authority announced that after one of its initial phases of work, it was still on schedule to be on nearer side of the 5-7-year project window it announced in July of last year.
“There’s always a chance, and we’re working at it every day,” Boone Dam Project Manager Sam Vinson said in regard to the possibility of finishing the repairs quicker than five years.
As for the $200-$300 million estimated cost of the project — coming out of the nonprofit TVA’s general funds and not something that could increase costs to its customers — Vinson said he has no way of knowing, just yet, if TVA could come in under that budget estimate. That being said, he had no reason to believe the work won’t be within that window.
The reservoir sits at 1,350-1,355 feet of elevation, and the TVA says it can keep it there and work as work moves forward.
The current phase of work involves exploratory drilling, done with seven different drilling rigs at the Blountville location of the dam. One of those rigs is called a “sonic drilling rig,’ which uses frequency, rather than air or water, to explore below the earth’s surface.
In these holes, TVA is able to find out how it will go about using grout to repair the ailments of the earthen dam, which were discovered last year when muddy water proved it might be failing in effectiveness. Following this phase, TVA will actually be able to start the construction, or production phase, on the dam, to help build it up and repair it to a level that won’t fail any time soon. Grout curtains will be put into the dam and ultimately make the entire unit secure.
From that point, the TVA has said it made safety its number one priority, for those who have property on the lake, and those who are downstream. In the half-year TVA has been looking at the project, Vinson said, he and his team of engineers and experts haven’t seen a single thing to shock them and that everything is going according to plan.
“Our goal, at this point, is to keep going at the status quo,” Vinson said.
Vinson said the TVA will literally be working around the clock by Monday. There are more than 100 workers on the site at any given time and they’ve all recently worked through the blizzard that swept through the region. The only time they won’t be working on the dam in the near future will be when they need to give the equipment a rest or work on their machinery.
TVA’s Jim Hopson said about 100 boats are stranded around the lake, and though officials haven’t ruled out financial help to those boat owners, they don’t have a plan in place either. A “one-size-fits all“ solution for aiding with boats simply won’t work, so they haven’t been able to solidify a plan just yet.
”We’re still evaluating help for boat owners,“ he said.
Many of these boats, he said, even at normal lowered winter lake levels, would still be out of the reach of anyone trying to help rescue them.