TVA hosts event to educate public on Boone Dam repair, vegetation management

David Floyd • Dec 3, 2019 at 9:23 PM

Rick and Beverly Dempsey live roughly a mile below Boone Dam — a circumstance that made them nervous when they learned that the dam would need to be repaired because of internal erosion along its earthen embankment.

“It was really a traumatic observation that this was occurring,” Dempsey said.

Since 2015, the Tennessee Valley Authority has been involved in a multi-million dollar repair of Boone Dam’s earthen embankment, which the agency anticipates will wrap up in 2022. On Tuesday, scores of attendees showed to the TVA’s Public Information Fair at Daniel Boone High School, an annual event that allows property owners to hear updates about the Boone Dam repair project.

“We do our best to keep communications up,” said Principal Project Manager Sam Vinson, pointing to the agency’s accounts on social media and its regular newsletter. “But, this offers the public the opportunity to actually come back and have individual dialogue with those technical leads, ask specific followup questions.”

Attendees cycled between a series of booths focusing on topics like dam safety, vegetation management and river management. One of those booths highlighted some of the agency’s “remotely operated vehicles,” unmanned devices that Eric Edwards, a dam safety civil inspector with the TVA, said inspectors use to evaluate areas that are difficult to reach or could be unsafe for divers. He said they also help the agency save money.

TVA staff showed off two pieces of equipment at the fair Tuesday: A tiny treaded vehicle equipped with a camera that’s can travel through tight parts of the Boone Dam embankment’s internal drainage system (called toe drains) and a small, aquatic vehicle that operators can use to make visual inspections underwater.

Dempsey, who attended the fair on Tuesday, said he’s been pleased with TVA’s efforts to repair the dam. Dempsey said he and Beverly can hear the work on the embankment going on from their home on Pitt Road.

Vinson said work on the dam is now occurring 24 hours a day during five days of the week. Crews also work an additional 12 hours on Saturday.

“It certainly appears by all indications that everything’s going well and according to schedule,” Dempsey said. “There seems to be an immense focus on quality, and that’s very important to us that it’s done right, not just done.”

Crews are now in the process of installing an underground cutoff wall along the embankment that will consist of an overlapping series pillars plunging dozens of feet into the ground. Vinson said Tuesday that the agency is on schedule to complete the wall in May 2021. So far, crews have completed 45 of the 300 concrete pillars that makeup the structure. They have an additional 108 pillars that are partially complete.

Once the wall is finished, TVA will then start raising and lowering the water level to test the repairs.

As part of the repair effort, TVA has dropped lake levels from the normal summer pool level of 1,382 feet to about 1,350 feet. The agency has been mulching accessible vegetation in the exposed lakebed with crews managing to cut roughly 650 acres of plant life last year. Vinson said the agency will be mulching again next year, likely touching on many of the same areas they cut in 2019. He said the TVA is looking at using herbicides next year to help stop regrowth.

“We’ve had a lot of compliments, a lot of positive feedback,” Vinson said. “We were able to mulch all of the areas we intended to in this first year.”

Citing safety concerns, property owners have indicated that they want to see the TVA continue their vegetation management efforts next year. The Boone Dam Repair Coalition, an organization of property owners who live around the lake, has compiled a map that pinpoints areas they would like to see cut in the near future.

Vinson said TVA meets with the coalition, the Boone Lake Association and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency a couple of times a year. He said they have another meeting in mind at the beginning of the next growing season.

Janice Weisenburger, who attended the event on Tuesday, is the homeowner’s association president for Gabriel’s Crossing, a community on the lakeshore that consists of about 30 condominiums.

She said members of the association are concerned about the vegetation, which she said could be a safety hazard for boaters and skiers if left uncut. Weisenburger said TVA has mulched a significant amount of vegetation in the exposed lakebed near the property, but were unable to reach vegetation in the middle of the lakebed because of a beaver dam that caused water buildup and made the area too marshy for the cutting equipment.

She said staff has indicated to her that they will be able to come back to the property to reassess the vegetation now that the beavers have relocated and the dam is gone.

“One and done is not going to make it,” she said of the vegetation. “There are places that have been cut multiple times and it just keeps growing back.”

Edgar Owens and his wife Bonnie moved to Tennessee from Virginia in July. They bought property on the lake and attended the event on Tuesday to learn more about the repair effort.

“We want to try to be involved in seeing what happens and ensuring it’s done properly,” he said. “We’re just trying to be educated, mainly.”