KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – In 2014, the Tennessee Valley Authority had to make the tough, yet necessary decision to lower the levels at Boone Lake in order to conduct crucial repairs to the dam.
According to TVA officials, they first observed a sinkhole in the parking lot and days later, saw muddy discharge in the channel below; both signs indicating a greater threat.
The threat was classified as ‘internal erosion’ and required a lower pool in order to make the needed improvements to mitigate that threat. When it was first announced this work would take seven years, the community wasn’t too thrilled.
Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as the TVA announced Tuesday in an update that they are on track for a July 2022 completion.
Not only are they on track for completion, but this work is also being completed significantly under budget. The project was initially budgeted an excess of $400 million for completion, but as of Tuesday, TVA officials told News Channel 11 the rough estimate of the project cost so far is around $300 million.
Crews have been hard at work putting the final touches on the dam and returning it to a state far better than its former glory.
“We drove cylindrical piles, these big long cylinders filled with concrete, and we connected them all together in a straight line, and that cuts off seepage underneath the dam from the reservoir to the downstream and that’s the real danger that we were trying to mitigate,” said Project Technical Director, Chris Saucier.
Full pool levels during the summer of 2021 were not only a sign of progress but a test. “All these instruments that we have around the site showed us that the cut-off wall we implemented is performing exactly how we expected, and we got great data in terms of the way that water is going to flow around the site in a new way with this sort of ‘dam within a dam’ that we constructed by the cut-off wall,” Saucier said.
Come late spring, people will be able to utilize the dam and the beach near it once again.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Saucier. “I know it’s been a challenge for folks within the community, but we’re happy to say that we’re on track for delivering this and returning to normal. The facilities that folks were accustomed to having before are the beach, the bathhouses near the beach, the visitor’s pavilion, the visitors center, those facilities will be open to the public in late spring so that’s all some great news we can pass along.”
With the threat now gone, only a few months stand between boaters enjoying Boone Lake again as they once knew it. However, officials have some advice before people hit the water.
“When you get back out on the lake, treat it as a new lake with new surroundings and just be very aware of your safety conditions when you’re boating and enjoying the lake,” said Saucier.
Currently, there are still pieces of the project still underway. According to Saucier, right now they are building a wall on top of the dam to restore flood protection to the point it was at prior to the start of this project.
They will also soon be removing a filter that was put in as a safety measure during this project to prevent seepage. Now that the majority of the project is complete, the filter is no longer necessary.
Saucier said once removed, there will be some muddy discharge from the spot, but people shouldn’t be alarmed by this.
He said he doesn’t foresee anything slowing this timeline down and is excited about full completion next summer.