FRANKLYWNOW - Dam Project Wields Hefty Price Tag

Dam Project Wields Hefty Price Tag

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Since 1934, the Marmet Lock and Dam in southern Kanawha County has played a key role in controlling flooding and aiding commerce on the Kanawha River. Now, as those twin locks gets ready to retire, they are starring in of one of the largest public engineering projects in the region. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is three years into a massive, seven-year project to build a replacement lock. The project is immense in both scale and price. The lock canal stretches 800 feet long, 110 feet wide and about 70 feet deep along the Belle side of the river. Total construction is estimated to cost $225 million. "$225 million is a lot of money even for us," said Dennis Hughes, resident engineer for the Corps' Huntington District, which is overseeing the Marmet project. "It's bigger than most projects we do." In fact, according to Peggy Noel, a public information officer for the Corps Huntington Division, the Marmet project is among the biggest projects in the 17-state Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. But as big as the earth-digging, water-moving project is, Hughes said work is going smoothly. This spring and summer, Hughes hopes to begin excavating areas upstream and downstream of the main canal to build guide walls and guard walls to help the boats line up to go through the lock. "The current wants to push boats toward the dam, so the guard wall gets boats to still water," he said. When the original twin locks were built, the project cost $3.5 million, according to the Corps Web site. But the Corps decided to replace one of the 71-year-old locks because it was getting old and needed too many repairs. The second lock will remain, but serve only as an auxiliary lock when the new lock undergoes repairs or if traffic on the river gets too backed up. Noel said Marmet's locks are the busiest along the Kanawha River, with 13.8 million tons of commodities going through in 2004. But Hughes said the old locks aren't able to handle a lot of the big towboats that regularly traverse the river, pushing barges full of coal. Each towboat typically pushes about 12 barges. Each barge carries as much cargo as 58 semis, Noel said. Hughes said when towboats come to a lock each barge of coal has to go through the lock individually. So the towboat would push its barges into the lock, let go of one, back the entire vessel up, wait for the water to go down or up to allow the barge to pass to the other side and then repeat the process. The process typically takes more than two hours. When the new lock opens, the process will take about 20 minutes. "That will save the boat companies money. It will save the coal companies money. It will save the power companies money, and when I get my electric bill, it will save me money. That's how I look at it," Hughes said. "It's definitely quicker and less expensive." That doesn't mean the project is easy. The main contractor for the project, Kokosing/Fru-Con, has had between 150 and 200 employees working 20 hours a day for five and six days a week on the project since July 2002. Rain and nasty weather during the past two summers have slowed work a bit, but Hughes said the Corps still believes the project will be done by the 2009 deadline. Already, the Corps has spent about $110 million on the project, and a tour of the site shows exactly where that money is going. The first thing many people see when driving past the locks are the long, narrow cranes that point straight into the sky. The cranes are used nearly constantly to move equipment both for construction and the future lock. One rainy winter afternoon, cranes lifted generators from one side of the canal to the other. They also lifted huge pieces of the actual lock system that would otherwise be impossible to move, such as the calvert valve liners. These liners look like giant shoebox-shaped Belgium waffles, but they weigh close to 60 tons. Made entirely of steel, the calvert valve liners are designed to protect the calvert valve system that will flush water into and out of the canals when boats or barges need to go through the lock. "The calvert valve liners were so big we had to have them floated in from Alabama," Hughes said. Right now, workers at the site are placing concrete to build 70 giant monoliths that will make up the walls of the lock. Workers build the monoliths five feet at a time. "It's kind of like building a brick wall. You build it one layer at a time," Noel said. The total project site is about one mile long, and the excavation involves moving about 3 million yards of rock and rubble. Rock that was taken from the river bank is now piled up into a hill more than 100-feet tall near where the new canal is being constructed. That rock is broken down into smaller pieces that will be used for backfill along the land-side of the project. During the earlier phases of construction, some worried that the walls of the canal would suffer from slippage as 60 to 70 feet of rock never before exposed to the elements adjusted to being stripped down and dug around. Hughes said the walls are secured with thick concrete anchors to add stability. Plus, the walls and anchors are lined with sensors that will alert everyone if things should start to shift. But so far, shifting and sliding have not been a major problem. "Initially there was a little concern, but right now it pretty much appears to have quit moving," Hughes said. As Hughes walked around the site, he talked about the technology and planning that has gone into the project. "It is a very big job. But when you are out here every day, you tend to forget it. It just starts to become a job. Sometimes it takes someone coming out here to remember just how large this project is," he said.

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