Commonwealth Journal

April 20, 2013

Wolf Creek repairs now part of history

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Russell County, KY —

The contrast is remarkable.
 
August 15, 2005
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced during a somber gathering at The Center for Rural Development that Wolf Creek Dam is leaking uncontrollably and is in high risk of failure. They said a complete rehabilitation of the mile-long structure that impounds Lake Cumberland is necessary.
 
April 19, 2013
That is yesterday. The job is done. The mood has dramatically swung upward.
“Hallelujah! Tell the world to come on in! The water’s fine!” That’s the way Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, put it during an applause-interrupted, celebratory Wolf Creek Dam Completion Ceremony in the Russell County Schools auditorium/natatorium.
“This is a great day!” Rogers exclaimed. “We can announce with certainty that Wolf Creek Dam is safe; that all the people below the dam are safe.” Rogers is chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee through which came funds for the $594 million repair project.
“This is a start of a new chapter in the history of Wolf Creek Dam,” commented Brigadier General Margaret Burcham, commander, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She said the rehabilitation project “ ... restores our confidence in the integrity of the dam.”
“It is considered a model project ... the largest project of its kind in the world,” said Burcham.” Nothing has so much potential to provide so much protection for so many people.”
Marchetta Sparrow, secretary, Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, said “More Lake, More Fun” is the theme the cabinet will use to draw the Ohio Navy back to its favorite waterway.
“What they have done here is vital to the economy of the commonwealth,” said Sparrow. “Tourism puts food on the table for a lot of families.”
Rogers called the lake an economic engine for growth in the Lake Cumberland area. “It means so much to the economy of the region,” he said.
“This is a monumental occasion for both local and downstream communities that rely on the dam for economic and water management benefits,” said Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, commander of the Nashville District. He reviewed the Corps’ already announced plans to allow the level of Lake Cumberland to rise 20 feet for this summer’s tourism season and then to historical operational levels at 723 feet above sea level in Summer 2014.
Mike Zoccola, lead engineer for the rehabilitation project and chief of the Corps’ Civil Design Branch, said the rehabilitated Wolf Creek Dam, according to Corps’ policy, must be treated as a new dam.
“We raise the water in increments rather than put the entire pressure against the dam all at once,” Zoccola explained. He said originally they through about raising the water level 10 feet at a time, “ ... but they let us raise it 20 feet for this summer.”
The water level yesterday morning was at the 701-foot level. It will be maintained between 700 and 705 feet this summer and then raised another 20 feet to the 723-foot level by Summer 2014.
Praise was heaped on Treviicos-Soletanche Joint Venture, the general contractor for the rehabilitation project. Jerome Stubler and Stefano Trevisani, the companies’ chief executive officers, each made remarks during the completion celebration.
Bill DeBruyn, resident engineer at the dam, said earlier the total project required 290,000 cubic yards of concrete. According to our calculation, a cubic yard of fresh concrete weighs about 3,700 pounds, so a total of 1,073,000,000 (one billion, 73 million) pounds of concrete have been inserted in the dam.  
That is enough concrete, according to DeLapp, to build a sidewalk 5 feet wide and four inches thick from Russell Springs to Washington D.C.  Pyle Concrete Company of Columbia built a plant on U.S. 127 across from Lake Cumberland State Park to supply concrete for the dam project.
  Problem was, when Wolf Creek Dam was constructed before and immediately after World War II, cavities in the limestone base were packed with clay. Over time, the clay washed out, leaving caverns, some 40 feet tall, inside the dam.
Two huge sinkholes in the electrical grid below the dam and muddy water in the tailrace during the late 1960s signaled a near breach of the structure. Cities along the Cumberland River, from Burkesville to Nashville, got nervous and there was talk of mass evacuations.
A too-short barrier wall and extensive grouting (pumping liquid concrete in the dam) during the 1970s provided a temporary fix, but the leaks continued.
An outside panel of experts in 2005 declared Wolf Creek Dam in high risk of failure. In August 2005, the Corps announced publicly that a complete rehabilitation of the dam was necessary.
The first grouting contract was let in 2006 and, in January 2007, the water level was lowered 40 feet to ease pressure on the dam and facilitate the rehabilitation project. Treviicos-Soletanche JV, an Italian-French corporation, was selected as general contractor in July 2008 to insert a permanent barrier wall in the dam to make it safe.
The wall, fashioned with overlapping 50-inch holes filled with concrete, extends 275 feet from a created work platform on the upstream side of the dam to about 100 feet into the limestone bedrock beneath the dam. The project is of a scope never before done in the world. 
The earthen section of the dam is bolstered with two additional walls: A shorter barrier wall extending about 15 feet into the limestone bedrock was installed during the 1970s following the near breech of the dam during the late 1960s, Also, remaining in the dam is a protective concrete embankment wall fashioned with 6 feet-by-9 feet concrete panels to stabilize the earthen embankment while the most recent wall was inserted.
“I think the Corps has done a fantastic job,” said J.D. Hamilton, owner of Lee’s Ford Marina Resort. “I believe it is a 100 year fix for the dam.”