Matlock Blasts TVA

TVA prepares for unlikely event
Mary E. Hinds News-Herald
Motorists making their way driving over the Fort Loudoun Dam lately may have noticed sandbags peeking over the top of the retaining wall and loose sand on the roadway.

The same can be said of the earthen embankments at the Tellico, Cherokee and Watts Bar dams. With a cost estimated at $8 million, TVA is raising the elevation of four of its dams to help reduce the risk of flooding in the unlikely event of what State Rep. Jimmy Matlock characterized as a "500 year flood."

Matlock said his office was fielding calls from county residents wondering why TVA was taking such a measure at such a high cost to prevent an event that has never happened in living memory. "I'm getting calls from county residents asking what in the Sam Hill is going on at Tellico Lake," Matlock said.

The work at the dams will raise the top elevation of each embankment about four feet. The extra height is designed to prevent water from overtopping and damaging the earthen embankments.

According to a press release from TVA's River Scheduling General Manager Chuck Bach, "A recent update of TVA's river modeling program determined that the maximum floodwater elevations could be higher than previously calculated if a highly unlikely, worst-case winter rainfall were to occur in the upper part of the Tennessee Valley watershed."

Bach acknowledged such a event is unlikely. "Although the probability of such an event is extremely rare, TVA must design and operate its dams to safely withstand such events," he said in the press release. Matlock said he sees the plan as a waste of taxpayer money.

"TVA has come out with some kind of crazy idea that if we ever have a 500-year flood that the earthen dam part of our dam structure could, in theory - although it has never happened in 2,000 years of mankind - could wash the earthen dams away. So they've gone along the parkway on top of the earthen dams and made the biggest mess and the biggest waste of money," Matlock said. TVA plans to have the work finished by Jan. 1, because, according to TVA, floods are most likely to occur in winter and early spring.
The sandbags are just a temporary solution to what may be an nonexistent problem. They will be in place "until long-term, permanent solutions can be identified, evaluated and implemented," according to TVA.

It amounts to trying to predict the unpredictable and unlikely. Bach's press release said, "To calculate the maximum flood levels in its river modeling, TVA assumes an extremely large storm within the watershed area being evaluated, which is critically centered to produce maximum flood levels."

While models and off-the-wall predictions may make scientist happy, some people with a more practical viewpoint may question the idea and the plan. "In a nutshell it's a waste of money. They're overreacting to the ash spill in Kingston," Matlock said adding, "Even Noah didn't deal with something quite that bad."

Loudon County neighbors question TVA's new $8-million sandbag wall around Fort Loudon Dam

WBIR-Additions to four dams across East Tennessee have some neighbors in Loudon County questioning why roughly $8 million of public money is being spent in preparation for a type of flood East Tennessee has never seen.

In October, TVA started work on Fort Loudoun, Tellico, Cherokee, and Watts Bar dams. New flood prediction models show the worst possible flood would be higher than originally expected. Now, the federal agency is basically adding four feet of height to the dams.

"It does seem to be like a nuisance, in terms of changing the landscape," Bryson Grimes, a boater near Tellico Dam said. "You'd think they could come up with a little bit better look than just a bunch of fabric looking wire baskets full of rock."

The temporary sandbagged walls have some neighbors in Lenoir City asking for public hearings, calling Congressman John Duncan Jr. and Senator Bob Corker as they try to find a better solution.

The Tellico Village Homeowners Association is also considering taking whatever action they can. Their president is recommending the association contact TVA and request a meeting to discuss the sandbag extensions.

"If it actually prevents a flood, I would assume it is well worth the money. It'd have to be a pretty bad flood to get out of the banks of this lake," Grimes said.

According to TVA, for the new sandbags to play any role it would have to be the worst flood we've ever seen--beyond a 100-year flood or even a 500-year flood.

"It never happens, they never have to use it--everybody is going to be like, 'Hey, you wasted $8 million," Grimes said.

TVA says from their perspective, it is better to spend the money and be safe than be sorry. They are currently looking into a permanent solution but have no timetable on when it could be built.