Although work enters its final major phase this summer, it will be at least four years before the dam resumes operations — even longer to refill the reservoir. Meanwhile, docks of adjacent property owners have been left high and dry and some businesses dependent on lake activities have folded.
This project, stretching over seven years, seems like one of those things that just can't be rushed. But whatever can be done to accelerate the pace of this work should be done. Principal project manager Sam Vinson said the construction on two raised berms on the upstream and downstream sides of the dam are almost complete, which will double the size of the land area around the dam once finished. Vinson said this phase of the project is a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, so he estimates that berm construction will be complete by June.
“We have placed a little over 180,000 tons of material with about 240,000 tons estimated to complete the project. So we’re about 75 percent complete,” he said. The berm phase of the project follows a grouting period, which means workers filled gaps in the rock below the earthen embankment of the dam. The past two phases have been to widen and stabilize the area around the top of the dam, Vinson said, to prepare for the construction of the cutoff wall, which will be the final major leg of the project.
Part of the need for the widened work area is that the equipment needed to build the wall is massive, Vinson said. “The cutoff wall, the final piece, is pretty invasive,” he said. “We’re going to put a large wall down the center of it and we want to make sure we have stability of the earthen embankment before we do this more invasive project.”
The dam is still on schedule to resume regular operations in 2022, Vinson said, but he said not to expect waters to go back to normal soon after the project’s completion. A refill plan will be included in a final construction plan, which he said should be released this fall. TVA announced the seven-year construction plan more than two years ago after major seepage was discovered under the dam.
As to the million-dollar question, Vinson said people often ask him why the project is taking three times as look as it took to build Boone Dam. He responds, “It is true that the construction phase of Boone Dam was two years, but there’s three major phases in a project — there’s the planning, the design and the construction,” he said. “So at Boone Dam all three stages for the repair are seven years. It may only take months or year to (construct) the project, but the overall project is seven years.”
We don't doubt that work is progressing on schedule but President Trump may have his wall in place before boats again float at Boone Lake docks. If there is any way to accelerate the pace of this project, it should be explored.