TVA barriers coming

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

Tennessee Valley Authority is moving forward on a permanent solution for unsightly flood control sand baskets at Tellico, Fort Loudoun and other local dams.

Problem is, many in the community won't be happy.

Depending on the location, concrete barriers or earthen berms will be built to increase dam protection in the event of a catastrophic flood, TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said. Sand baskets near the bridge at Fort Loudoun Dam will be replaced with concrete.

Results from a environmental impact study on permanent dam safety modifications found that probable maximum floodwater elevations at four local dams are higher than previously calculated, according to a TVA report. The changes will also be made at Cherokee and Watts Bar dams.

TVA claims the barriers are needed to protect nuclear plants at Watts Bar, Sequoyah and Browns Ferry in case of catastrophic flooding, known as a probable maximum flood or PMF. The permanent barriers should be in place by the end of 2015, Brickey said.

State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said his biggest issues with the proposed structures are aesthetics and feasibility.

"Of course, I'm not an engineer, but from people that I have talked to that have some expertise in flood control it appears to be wasteful and certainly it detracts from the environmental beauty that we have in that area of Tellico Lake," he said.

"I've talked to one engineer who did a fairly in-depth study, and it just shows it's not really needed," McNally said. "I think most of the public in the affected area are opposed to it. I don't know how vocal they would be."

TVA held public meetings last year, and Brickey said the authority took comments into consideration.

"If there were places we could raise the height of the berms, the earthen dams, rather than putting a concrete wall, we did that. If there are walking trails there we are going to put the walking trails back," Brickey said. "We took input from the public and tried to accommodate their concerns as best we could and still fulfill the requirement to replace those sand baskets with a more permanent solution."

Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, said TVA's solution isn't being embraced by the community.

"Everybody is disappointed. I've not heard anything but lots of frustration and disappointment, not just because aesthetically it changes the shoreline, but I think people are just so unclear as to the logic behind it," Matlock said. "This likelihood is so incredibly remote that there is more chance of us being struck by a meteorite than there is this water level rising."

Matlock said the controversy started before the sand baskets were installed in 2009.

"Now that fight was fought," he said. "We tried and were ultimately unsuccessful at convincing the federal authorities, and it moves beyond a TVA issue. ... We found out as much as we screamed about it TVA wasn't really the party that seemed to be just adamant about it. It was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, so here we are fast forward it to today.

"They ruled it's going to happen," Matlock said. "I don't think anyone will be pleased ultimately about what will be done but, all being said, it's in the works. I don't think that at this point it's going to do me or anyone else any good to stand up and say, 'This is crazy, and these people are using bad numbers and illogic' and all those things because we've already said all that."

Brickey said the project is underway, but recognizable changes won't come until the spring.

"It's something that all utilities, dam owners have to plan for. ... Again, I can't stress how unlikely a PMF would even happen," Brickey said.

"It was determined we could not release enough water fast enough, so basically if you had all the spillway gates open and you're generating and all the turbines are pulling water as fast as they can water is still backing up behind the dam and rising," Brickey said. "Which what you don't want is the water to go over top of the dam where you lose control, and, of course, part of these dams are earthen berms, and if you have water going over top it starts scoring that out and you don't want that to happen, so that's why it was raised up.

"The (sand baskets) were never meant to store water behind it. It was meant to protect for that very unlikely flooding. It also impacts the nuclear plants downstream with their operating license with the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) but it's all surrounding the PMF," he said.

McNally believes the changes — with a price tag of $20-30 million — are "wasteful."

"The data I've looked over does not appear to demonstrate a real need for them and even if they do construct them and there was to be some type of catastrophic flood I don't know (if) those barriers would do much to prevent flooding in the area," McNally said. "I think there would be a lot better things they could do with the money, preferably keep the electric rates low for residents that are served by TVA."