Wolf Creek Dam is safe again

Posted April 24, 2013 at 1:30 pm


U.S. Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers, right, prepares to push a button that would electronically signal for a crew to begin pouring the final batch of concrete to complete the rehabiliation project at Wolf Creek Dam. About 250 people were on hand last Friday in Russell County to watch the ceremonial last pour, which was projected in the background via a live feed from the dam into the Russell County Auditorium/Natatorium. The project has been seven years and $594 million in getting to Friday’s “completion” status.


With his arms outstretched and reaching toward the heavens, that was the one word that U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers used to best describe his feelings at the moment.

Rogers, who was speaking Friday morning to about 250 people gathered at the Russell County High School Auditorium/Natatorium, was referring to the fact that after years and years, the repair work at Wolf Creek Dam had been completed.

Rogers, a Somerset Republican, represents the 5th Kentucky Congressional District which includes most of the area where Lake Cumberland and the Cumberland River is situated.

“Thanks to the great work of the Corps and these contractors and all involved, I think we’re now ready to see the rebirth of the tourist economy in this whole section of Kentucky,” Rogers said. “It’s been a hard long pull. It’s a very costly one – in fact $594 million dollars.”

The Congressman’s comments were part of a key-note address made at a ceremony held Friday to commemorate the completion of a rehabilitation project that got underway seven years ago in an attempt to stop leaks that were allowing water to seep through and underneath the nearly mile-long concrete and earthen Wolf Creek Dam.

The dam, which forms Lake Cumberland, is situated just north of the Clinton County boundary in neighboring Russell County.

Since work began on the repair of the dam, the level of Lake Cumberland has been maintained at some 40 feet below normal summer pools.

Friday’s program and ceremony included the official work that the dam repair efforts had indeed been successful and that steps had already begun to allow Lake Cumberland’s level to rise back to normal levels.

The project originally was estimated to cost some $350 million and the most recent figures have shown that the cost was $594 million and that the project was actually completed nearly a year prior to the scheduled completion date of December of this year.

Rogers was one of several speakers who shared the stage at Friday’s event, which was billed around a “ceremonial last pour” that would see construction workers on the dam work platform, releasing one last truckload of concrete into a final void just below the surface to finish the repair job.

Originally planned to be held on the work platform itself, inclement weather that saw the region plagued with dropping temperatures, heavy rains and extremely high winds, forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make the decision on Thursday to move the event indoors.

Still, those on hand were able to view, through a live camera feed that was projected onto a large screen on the stage, the actual pouring of that last load of concrete which began at the signal of Rogers who pushed a button on an electronic signal apparatus to give the construction crew on the dam platform the “go-ahead” to begin releasing the concrete.

When the concrete began making it’s way down the chute of the large truck, the crowd inside the auditorium burst out in applause and cheers.

During his remarks Friday, Rogers, who currently resides in Pulaski County, noted that his normal route to the area included riding over the Fishing Creek Bridge – a creek that had been not much more than a trickle since the Lake Cumberland draw down during the repair project work.

“But this morning, water was rising out of the banks of Fishing Creek, on the way to a normal pool level,” Rogers said. “And that’s happening all across the basin.”

The Congressman also noted that the news of the rehab project completion as well as the announcement that the water level was again on the rise, would also mean a return to the tourism industry for the region as he invited the “Buck-eye Navy” back to Lake Cumberland.

“This is a great day,” Rogers said. “We can announce now, with certainty, that Wolf Creek Dam is safe.”

Rogers was just one of the many speakers taking the podium Friday who spent a considerable amount of time laying praise on the success of the joint venture between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the contractor that completed the work, Treviicos-Soletanche Joint Venture, a company that was founded from two separate firms for the Wolf Creek project.

Rogers noted that a rehabilitation project such as the one just completed at Wolf Creek had never been attempted anywhere before in the world, and that not only did the process itself have to be invented, but the actual equipment to complete the job had to be manufactured from scratch.

“We’ve heard from these engineers and contractors … that this is a unique project. This has never been done before anywhere in the world,” Rogers said. “They had to invent the process, and the machinery, and train the workers on something that had never been done before. This was sort of like a shot to the moon in the business that these people are in.”

The “shot to the moon” that Rogers was referring to was the process of boring large secant piles through the dam surface to a depth of as much as 275 feet below the base of the dam into the bedrock that Wolf Creek Dam is built upon.

Those deep holes into the dam, 50 inches wide and nine feet long, were then filled with concrete to form the new secant barrier wall that successfully stopped the flow of water that was discovered traveling through portions of the earthen structure, as well as below the dam’s bedrock base.

In all, 1,194 of the secant piles were drilled and filled with concrete in overlapping fashion to form the barrier wall, with some 300,000 cubic yards of concrete being used in the project.

At fault and causing the leaks and water flows, was the fact that the structure was built atop a karst geography, full of caves and voids that over time had washed out and was allowing water to travel through.

The recent rehabilitation project wasn’t the first. An earlier project, similar in design but on a much smaller scale, was performed in the mid 1970s after what was described as “muddy flow” downstream was discovered and two sinkholes on the downstream side of the earthen portion of the structure appeared.

That earlier rehab project produced a barrier wall that wasn’t nearly as deep as the present one, and wasn’t constructed along the entire length of the earthen portion of the dam as the new wall was constructed.

Lt. Colonel James A. DeLapp, the Commander of the Nashville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was among the first speakers to address the crowd Friday morning, noting that the success of the project was due to the teamwork of all of those involved, from the government agencies to the private sector as well as from the support of the communities that had been affected.

“There have been so many moving pieces and the work done here has been nothing less than world class,” DeLapp said.

One of the other dignitaries speaking to those attending Friday’s ceremony was Marcheta Sparrow, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, who also commended the joint efforts of all involved in making the project come together successfully.

She said that one phrase that would be heard time and time again in the coming months would be the new slogan the tourism department would be using to again promote visitation to the region.

“More lake – more fun,” Sparrow said, adding that she “could not agree more.”

“Make no mistake, tourism puts food on the table,” Sparrow said, referring to the large number businesses and families in the region that depend on Lake Cumberland and the tourists attracted here because of the lake activities.

She added that tourism figures estimated that some $300 million is produced in the region each year because of the tourism in the Lake Cumberland region.

Additional speakers included in Friday’s program were Jerome Stubler with Soletanche Freyssinet and Stefano Trevisani with Trevi-Finanziaria Industriale SpA.

The crowd also heard from Brigadier General Margaret Burcham, the Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.

During the opening portion of the ceremony, Larry Brown of Albany, a retired employee with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, delivered the invocation just prior to the introduction of the event speakers.

Friday’s ceremony was attended by a broad mixture of general public, Corps of Engineers officials and employees, as well as elected officials from local, state and national government. The event lasted about 90 minutes and concluded with several of the dignitaries placing concrete tubes into a small stand to construct a model of the barrier wall that the rehab project involved.