U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins public hearings on work to Bluestone Dam

HINTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers kicked off a trio of public hearings on proposed work to the Bluestone Dam in Summers County Thursday night at the Charleston Civic Center.

Aaron Smith, a senior project manager with the Corps, said the approximately 10 year project would address safety issues to the vitally important dam.

“While it sits in Summers County on the New River, it actually plays a significant role in reducing flood risks all along the New and Kanawha rivers through Charleston, all the way to Point Pleasant and along the Ohio River,” Smith said.

While Smith said that no dam can completely eliminate flooding, he said the Bluestone Dam actually prevented an even worse flood on June 23.

“About half the water that flows from Bluestone Dam finds its way to Charleston,” he explained. “In the flood event we had (June 23), while almost all of that rain fell downstream of Bluestone Dam, it was able to shut its gates and prevent $5 million worth of damages. However, the dam has some deficiencies with passing more extreme events.”

One of those, Smith said, is the dam is need of a sturdier foundation so it doesn’t slip forward.

“We’ve learned that the underlying bedrock underneath the dam is not very stable. And when it’s resisting the force of large amounts of water, that underlying bedrock can actually cause the dam to slide forward, and water to go downstream in an uncontrolled manner.”

The project is estimated to cost several hundred million dollars. Smith said the proposal is mostly about ensuring that the dam is prepared for any major storm.

“The dam itself is actually in excellent condition. However, modern science and better storm forecasting tells us that there are storms than can exceed its capacity to safely pass those waters,” he said. “In other words, become overtopped and potentially fail.”

The next two hearings on the Bluestone Dam will be Tuesday at WVU Tech in Montgomery in the Tech Center Activity Room, and next Thursday at the Summers County Memorial Building in Hinton.

The open house portion begins at 6 p.m., followed by a formal public hearing at 6:30 p.m.

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