Bluestone Dam Moves Forward with Projects, Capito Visits

HINTON — In recent times, there have not been many days where there hasn't been a construction project happening at the Bluestone Dam.

However, that shouldn't deter too many people from thinking any less of the structure for all of the benefits and protections it provides.

"We are making the dam safer," said Dean Bonifacio, the dam's resource manager.

After securing more funding for ongoing projects at the Bluestone Dam in December, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito stopped by Wednesday to see how progress was being made and learn more about how the dam affects the surrounding area.

"This is an important investment for the protection of people and property," Capito said. "The advanced engineering happening here is amazing. It's a huge dam and has created a great recreational opportunity."

Capito was referring to the Bluestone State Park that features many outdoor activities and a lake made possible by the dam.

"We're always happy to have elected officials visit the dam," said Aaron Smith, dam project manager, a part of the Huntington District of the Army Corps of Engineers. "It helps them to get a better understanding of investing and maintaining the dam."

In 1998, a study was performed on the dam revealing two deficiencies that needed addressed, said Smith.

The deficiencies included a foundation that had potential to slide and a chance that severe, albeit rare, storm events could cause the dam to exceed the amount of water it could hold back.

To address those problems, the Army Corp of Engineers sought funding to put in approximately 500 anchors to prevent the dam from sliding on its foundation. Some 200-plus anchors have already been installed.

The anchors, or bolts, are comprised of 61-strands of wire rope that are drilled into the foundation of the structure to help ensure its stability, Smith said.

The other project is the creation of an emergency spillway, that will allow the dam to increase its water discharge totals in the case of severe weather events to prevent the dam from failing with an excess of water.

The day's events featured a tour of the dam with Capito and other Hinton officials, which showed off the ongoing projects, as well as other features of the dam, including the debris towers.

The towers help dam operators to feed debris through the dam and help it disburse more naturally down the river.

Smith said the current two projects should be completed by 2019.

However, the project manager said that there is a complementary study under way, that should be completed by 2017, to address concerns about water scouring around the dam which could undermine the foundation.

Smith said it will likely lead to more financial and investment into the Bluestone Dam.

Smith stated that the dam reduces flood damage at a rate of $85 million a year. However, while there are great benefits to living in the dam's range, there are risks.

"The dam can only hold back so much water," Smith said. "If we are forced to increase our releases that could impact water levels downstream, all the way to Charleston."

Smith encouraged anyone to know the risks and benefits living near the dam and visit the website floodsmart.gov.

He stated that the Army Corps of Engineers works closely with emergency personnel to let them know if the dam is reaching dangerous water levels.

While the dam controls the Bluestone River, other rivers that join together downstream are uncontrolled.

"We cannot relieve those flood risks," Smith said.

By:  Bill Frye
Source: Beckley Register-Herald