TVA hosts 5th annual Boone Dam Info Night at Daniel Boone High School

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GRAY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Much like at Boone Dam, Daniel Boone High School was bustling with Tennessee Valley Authority machinery and experts Tuesday at the Boone Dam Stewardship Fair.

“With all of our areas of expertise, we have the technical leads here to interface with the public,” Boone Dam Project Manager Sam Vinson told media Tuesday.

PREVIOUS STORY: TVA to host information fair for Boone Dam Project on Dec. 3

One of the main concerns at the moment is the large amount of vegetation that has grown on the lakebed since the water levels have dropped. As well as TVA’s communications about their plans with the residents along Boone Lake.

“In the previous year, we mulched 650 acres and we’re assessing the regrowth from that and so we’ll also mulch again next year, likely many of the same areas,” Vinson said. “We’re also considering, from lessons learned, some other applications, maybe even some herbicide use to help stem the regrowth, or halt the regrowth of the vegetation, and to keep it at levels where we want it, and so they’ll be able to get feedback to us about their feeling on vegetation management, also we’ll be able to discuss our plans with them for next year.”

Boone Dam Project Manager Sam Vinson

Vinson added that TVA encourages communication from residents so as to foster a better understanding of construction and plans for Boone Lake moving forward.

“We always listen for ideas, feedback, whatever that may be, of course with the construction now it’s pretty far along the path so we’re not really getting a lot of feedback on it other than people are excited about it being complete,” he said.

This will be the fifth annual information night the TVA has hosted to inform the public of its plans and progress regarding Boone Dam and Boone Lake.

Fourteen booths were set up inside the main entrance of Daniel Boone High School for the fair, as well as several heavy pieces of equipment and boats on display just outside.

TVA’s dam safety engineering department, supplemental vegetation management, dam safety, river management, and labor recruitment union all had booths on display where the public could inquire about the processes and progress of the construction of Boone Dam.

Partnering with TVA, several other groups had booths on display for the public to visit.

“We have some of our partners on Boone, like Boone Lake Association, the Striper Club is here, and then we have a lot of natural resource-type booths, hiking opportunities in the area, clams and mussels, fish health, archeology, and then ETSU partnered with us on the Eagle Cam, and they’re also here to talk about that,” Vinson said.

Boone Dam construction update:

“For the cut-off wall, which we hope to complete in May of 2021 and start fluctuations, we’re on schedule with that,” Vinson explained.

To date, Vinson said that the TVA has completed placing about 45 of the elements along the dam, out of approximately 300, and TVA has another 108 elements in some progress of completion. He said that TVA will be staying on target with their schedule and intend to have water fluctuations begin in spring of 2021.

“At this point, we’ll continue to do production along the cut-off wall elements and we anticipate completing those in early 2021 and then that would lead to the fluctuations,” Vinson told media. “So the fluctuations will allow us to test the instrumentation that we put in around the dam and get readings and data back on that before we turn it over to normal operations in 2022.”

Remember, the 7-year deadline was said to end in July of 2022, so that’s when TVA intends to have it turned over for normal operations, Vinson said.

“We would not go directly to full pool,” Vinson said. “There’ll be a maximum restriction of how much the reservoir could refill following our typical operating guides, typically two feet a week, and you’ll likely see us hold the water levels at winter pool, ceratin other elevations so we can gather data from the instruments and then hopefully eventually summer pool, if not in 2021, obviously by 2022.”

TVA has put in a little over 1.3 million man-hours in the repair of the dam, Vinson said.

“If you look at the, just the vegetation, supplemental vegetation management this past season, we were right around 6,000 man-hours without injury, without environmental incident, we track those things very closely, and so that’s where we’re at on man-power for both of those projects,” Vison detailed.

For two 12-hour shifts daily on Monday through Friday and one 12-hour shift on Saturdays, workers are chugging along with production at Boone Dam.

“We run about 200 head-count a day, 200 persons,” Vinson said. “Some days its a little less, some days it’s a little more. I think, of late, we’ve been trending just under 200.”

“A day,” he explained he meant as a 24-hour shift.

“So that gives us two-and-a-half shifts, basically a day and a half that we can use for recovery and/or maintenance on the equipment on the weekends,” Vinson explained. “Obviously, when you’re running equipment around the clock, you need time to actually make sure you’re maintaining that, and plus give the workers a little bit of a break, you know, to recover.”

TVA has spent roughly $200 million to date on the Boone Dam project.

“The budget that we gave the public, you know the approximately $450 million, that included some contingency funds, you know, what-ifs, we had planned out,” Vinson explained. “We have not run into any surprises in construction of the cut-off wall to date, so the contingency funds notwithstanding, we’re right on budget of what we thought we would spend, so we’ll be at budget or slightly below if you pull out our contingency funds.”

Lakebed vegetation issue:

Boone Dam Repair Coalition members generated an interactive map via Google Maps, to help track the locations of hazardous vegetation around the lakebed.

PREVIOUS STORY: Boone Dam Repair Coalition discusses progress and lakebed clearing

“We have the (BDRC) map, we’ve looked at it,” Vinson said. “Some of those locations were cut this year, the regrowth was such that they grew back in those areas. Some areas we couldn’t access, so we couldn’t get it. You know, if it’s very steep, very rocky, we can’t get the mechanical means in there. Again, we’re considering maybe using some herbicide in some of those hard-to-reach areas, that would help us control the vegetation, so that’s something we’re looking at for next year.”

A grow-season, Vinson explained, usually begins around February 1 of each year, so that is when the TVA will resume cutting and mulching the hazardous vegetation growth along the lakebed.

In hard-to-reach areas, Vinson said the TVA is pointing landowners to environmentally responsible herbicides to rid their properties of hazardous vegetation, or controlled burning.

“We’re trying to supplement and help the private landowners but any time a community rallies together and the TVA’s able to work with the private residents in the communities, you know we’re just stronger,” Vinson said. “So they know their land, they know their areas, they know if they want it cut or not cut, so absolutely we encourage them to.”

The primary means of vegetation management up to this point, Vinson explained, has been forestry, or mulching head on a skid-steer.

“The skid-steer is very low ground pressure, so it’s able to get onto soft sediments and it’s one of the few pieces of equipment that we’ve used this year,” he explained. “We’ve multiple heads, and then two primary skid-steers, and also some other equipment – barges for access, some areas we were able to access by land, which was good.”

Wildlife impact:

Vinson explained that the TVA has been conducting extensive wildlife studies during the course of the Boone Dam project, particularly on the fish in the lake.

“We’re doing a lot of fish studies on the lake right now,” he said. “Typically, TVA will do juvenile fish studies every two to three years, we’re doing it multiple times a year at Boone to track the health of the fish now and we’ll continue to do so after the reservoir comes up.”

As for the health of the Boone fish, Vinson said they are flourishing.

“If you’re looking at it, not from a TVA biologists’ perspective, but a fisherman’s perspective, the fishing has been exceptional on Boone Lake the last few years because the body of water got smaller but the number of fish stayed the same and so what we’re trying to do is just ensure that when the body of water gets bigger we can help the number of fish return to normal for that size a body of water,” Vinson said.

If everything keeps going to according to plan, Vinson assured, Boone Lake will be completely back to normal by July 2022. {We have corrected this sentence to read July 2022 instead of July 2020}

Here’s the full media interview with Boone Dam Project Manager Sam Vinson:

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