CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nearly two decades of stabilization work for the Bluestone Dam located in Summers County, a crucial floodwater control in West Virginia, is now entering its fifth and final phase.
Later this year or early in 2020, a contract will be awarded for more than $200 million in stilling basin improvements.
“Our next phase of construction is focused on shoring up our primary outlet works or the place where we discharge water,” explained Aaron Smith, senior project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District for the Bluestone Dam Safety Assurance Project.
“There’s a concern that during extreme storms that the dam may have to pass that we could actually scour (remove sediment from) the riverbed in front of the dam and undermine the dam’s foundation.”
The upcoming work, with a projected completion date in 2027, was to be detailed during two public meetings from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The first meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Summers County Council on Aging, also known as the Senior Center, located in Hinton.
On Thursday, May 23rd at 6 p.m., a similar meeting was to be held at the Kanawha County Public Library in Downtown Charleston.
“One of the challenges associated with the next phase of work is that we will have to work where we do discharge water every single day,” Smith told MetroNews ahead of those meetings.
During the coming years of work, alterations to those daily discharges will be necessary to address the potential for the stilling basin to be “overwhelmed” in terms of discharge capacity in future extreme storms.
“As we work to change the nature, hydraulic nature, of that stilling basin, we’ll have to cut off some of our discharge features which will require us to store water more frequently and discharge water in different ways than we do today,” he said.
The Bluestone Dam was originally completed in 1952 at a cost of $30 million.
The Dam Safety Assurance Project launched in 2001 as a massive prevention effort to address any potential future breaches that could result in catastrophic flooding.
Though it sits on the New River directly upstream from Hinton, the Bluestone Dam’s reach is not limited to that single waterway.
“Half the water that goes past the Capital City of Charleston goes through the gates of Bluestone Dam every single day, so it actually reduces flood risks through the New, Kanawha and all the way down to the Ohio River Valleys,” Smith said.
Already, the Dam Safety Assurance Project has included large-scale work to address two other safety deficiencies for the Bluestone Dam: the potential for dam “overtopping” in future storms leading to failure and threats to the foundation where the dam sits.
Smith put emphasis on the fact that the Bluestone Dam prevents and reduces flood risks, but does not fully eliminate such risks and won’t do so once the stabilization work is completed either.
“We always want to make sure folks downstream work with their local and elected officials to make sure that they’re making flood-smart decisions for themselves,” he said.