Commonwealth Journal

Local News

March 15, 2007

A solution to the dam problem?

‘Roller- compacted’ dam being considered by Corps of Engineers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a layered concrete structure that would, in effect, replace the 4000-foot-long earthen section of troubled Wolf Creek Dam and be an alternative to a planned diaphragm wall.

Mike Zoccola, chief of the Corps’ Civil Design Branch, said the structure being studied is a “roller-compacted concrete dam” that would tie in to the existing concrete section of dam. It would be built instead of a four-to-five-foot thick concrete wall that would extend through the earthen section to about 100 feet into the bedrock.

Zoccola emphasized at all points in his discussion that the new method to permanently repair Wolf Creek Dam is still being studied. The nearly mile-long concrete and earthen dam that impounds Lake Cumberland has been classified as a “high risk” for failure and the lake level is being kept low to ease pressure on the unstable structure.

A roller-compacted dam would be constructed with layers of concrete, each compacted with heavy equipment. Zoccola said the concrete would be a “really dry mix” unlike the more familiar soupy concrete that wouldn’t support compaction.

Noting that roller-compacted dams are not uncommon, Zoccola estimated that the structure under study would be about the same length as the existing earthen section of the dam and some 15-20 feet in width. It would be located on the downstream side of the existing earthen part of the dam and would impact the road leading to Kendall Recreation Area, the power grid and fish hatchery.

How deep a roller-compacted dam would extend into the earth, how much it would cost and how long it would take are still questions, Zoccola noted. Also still undetermined is whether construction of that type facility would require further lowering of the lake level. Grouting and the diaphragm wall in the current plan have a price tag of $309.1million and would take up to seven years.

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