Q&A: TVA responds to Boone Dam rumors, concerns: ‘It’s fixable.’

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)  — The Tennessee Valley Authority is responding to what it calls some common rumors about on-going repair work at Boone Dam.

In late 2014, TVA lowered Boone Lake at the first signs of water seeping under the earth portion of the bridge in a moved aimed at protecting communities downstream.

In mid-2015, TVA launched a five to seven-year project to fix Boone Dam by injected grout into the earth embankment, essentially constructing a new waterproof barrier.

Earlier this year, TVA halted drilling on the dam and furlough dam repair workers while engineers installed additional sensors to study the effectiveness of the work done so far.

Boone Dam is more than 60 years old. Part of the structure is concrete. The other part – and the part that had structural problems- is earth-filled.

“We got into a situation where we did not have the right kind of data to be able to answer those questions,” said Jim Hopson, TVA spokesman, in an interview with News Channel 11 earlier this year. “We said we need to stop and do that kind of work right now so we can make sure we are doing correctly and we can find everything back up and keep moving forward.”

This week, Hopson said they agency has learned about rumors spreading that dam repair efforts haven’t worked, that Boone Dam isn’t fixable after all, that TVA has run out of money to repair the dam, and that there’s a delay in the estimated completion date.

Here are the responses he sent to News Channel 11:

Rumor: ‘The dam repairs haven’t worked…’

TVA Response: Of course, the repair is not complete, but the early analysis of the data we gathered when we increased the reservoir levels to 1355′ last fall shows that what we are doing is having the desired effect. In fact, it was the review of that data that indicated there were areas on the embankment that we didn’t have as “clear” of a picture as we needed, which is why we are currently installing additional sensors to give us a more complete understanding of the work we are doing nearly 300 feet below ground.

Rumor: ‘The dam isn’t fixable…’

TVA Response:  “See answer above. It’s fixable, but this isn’t a project where there is a pre-existing “plan” available that we can just build, like a house blueprint. Based on our own engineering team and consultation with other hydro utilities in the nation who have experienced similar challenges, we have a very good idea of what will be needed to repair the embankment but, as we move forward, we must make the necessary adjustments to ensure that the work we are doing is safe and the repair is high quality.”

Rumor: ‘We’ve run out of money and have sent everyone home…’

TVA Response: “We continue to have a sizeable staff onsite performing work, but we did furlough the highly-specialized drill and grouting crew because they could not safely continue to work while we had to clear off the embankment to install the new sensors. This is an exceedingly small work area, so we are limited in terms of how much equipment and number of personnel can safely be working at any given time. When drilling and grouting operations resume, many of those same personnel will be returning.”

Concern: ‘Why did you furlough the personnel?’

TVA Response: “The Boone repair is a multi-phase project, requiring different teams of workers with their own unique specialties. It’s similar to building to house. You are not going to have your roofing contractor standing around when you are currently working on the foundation. We bring the right people to the site at the right time in order to safely do the work needed at the time.”

Rumor: ‘This is going to delay the project…’

TVA Response: “These types of activities were always anticipated and included in the 5- to 7-year repair timeframe shared in July 2015. The sequence of necessary events may be fluid, but does not directly influence the overall timing.”

Concern: ‘We don’t see anything happening…’

TVA Response: “The types of activities currently at the dam are more similar to the early exploratory work seen in 2015. There are fewer drill rigs and other equipment on the embankment because the installation of the enhanced sensors system doesn’t require them. Later this summer, visitors will see much more activity at the dam as we begin construction of both an upstream and downstream rock berm on either side of the earthen embankment. Construction of these berms was always planned, but originally scheduled for later in the repair project. We are re-shuffling the sequence to take advantage of the fact that we currently don’t have the drilling and grouting rigs on the embankment.”

Hopson said later this summer, people will notice a lot of activity around Boone Dam. Crews will install rock berms on either side of the earthen embankment both upstream and downstream, something that always was planned.

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