A panel of officials, engineers, and design team members from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) gathered before a packed room of locals at the Pike County Government Center on Tuesday evening (September 26) to share information and answer questions regarding the ongoing project and issues faced at Lake White. The two-hour meeting, hosted by the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, featured a 45-minute slideshow presentation by Stantec, as well as a question-and-answer session moderated by Paul Price and Shirley Bandy, of the Chamber.
Local officials in attendance included Pike County Commissioners Blaine Beekman, Tony Montgomery, and Fred Foster, as well as Pike County Auditor Erica Snodgrass. Bryce Minor, a representative from Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger’s office also attended the meeting, as did Vaughn Wilson, ODOT District 9 deputy director, Steve Berezanski,
ODNR project manager and capital improvement program leader, project engineers Hung Thai and Jeremy Winner, and Stan Harris, of Stantec.
Early on in the meeting, Minor spoke on behalf of Rosenberger.
“I have been reviewing this situation with Lake White, and I know that Speaker Rosenberger is very interested in this situation,” said Minor. “Our office has been working with ODNR on this, and the Speaker is interested in working on this and seeing this project through.”
Wilson, who has served as ODOT District 9’s deputy director for nearly seven years, spoke about the roadway improvement portion of the Lake White project.
“I’m happy to be here today, though I may not say that when I leave,” said Wilson. “It has been a trying project, to say the least ... The roadway portion is pretty much complete. Everybody is driving through there now. We have additional turn lanes at 552 and brand-new pavement across the top of the dam. The roads opened in August, and we are happy to get to that point, but there’s still a little more we need to do. We are going to continue to work with ODNR as they strive to come up with a resolution for the issues that are going on with the lake.”
Berezanksi spoke about ODNR’s stance on dam safety, and introduced the presentations that would follow.
“ODOT took care of the road and bridge ... That leaves the dam, which is why you are here this evening. That is ODNR’s responsibility, as ODNR basically manages most of the state-owned and public-owned dams in the state of Ohio,” said Berezanski. “We are hopeful that our presentation will answer most of your questions ... Not only is ODNR in charge of keeping dams repaired and in good shape, but we also have a regulatory program in place for dam safety. It is our number one priority. When it comes to dams and potential loss of property and life, everybody takes it seriously ... The dam is currently safe. We want to be clear about that.”
Berezanski then addressed the importance of “community engagement.”
“Community engagement is one thing I think ODNR is quite good at. We have a communications group, and we are going to ask some of you to be involved in a stakeholder group so we can have more meetings and then those folks can disseminate information out to the community. This has been very successful for us in the past,” he said. “Hopefully the reason you are here is to find a way forward. We do have a plan, and we are going to talk about that. It will involve a filter berm, which we think is our first step toward a resolution here.”
Berezanski then went on to say that ODNR has “not stopped this project”, stating that ODOT, project engineers, and Stantec “have been working and working on this throughout the entire summer.”
“If you have the perception that ODNR was not moving forward with the team, that’s absolutely not true. It’s incorrect. There has been a lot of time and effort put into this to get us to where we are now,” he said. “We ask for your understanding, your respect, and your patience ... Hopefully, by the end of this evening, if nothing else we will all be on the same page as to where we are going to get to the end of the day on this.”
Stan Harris, of engineering firm Stantec’s Cincinnati office, presented a slideshow about Lake White’s history and the project’s timeline and future goals. According to Harris, Stantec has been a part of the project since 2009, working alongside ODOT and ODNR on the design aspect of the project.
“This project is very personal to us. We take pride in it and want to see a good outcome for everyone,” said Harris. “I know you’re very passionate about your leak, and I understand that. I understand how important this is to you.”
During the presentation, Harris shared a 1915 topographic map of the site of Lake White, which showed the lake’s proximity along the Ohio and Erie Canal, something he says is “not something typically seen with dams.”
“There are old structures from the canal that may be buried under the current dam ... The dam’s construction started in 1935 and was finished late that same year, and, according to newspaper reports, filled up very quickly ... I just mention that to give some perspective that it is a bit of an unusual situation, and there may be some old buried structures in the dam,” said Harris. “The dam has a history of being overtopped by water, which happens because the size of the lake isn’t very large compared to the amount of drainage area that feeds the lake. So the spillway sometimes can’t handle the flows, and the water comes up and goes over the top of the dam, most recently in 2006. Some erosion occurred, and if the water continued flowing for much longer it could have caused a lot of damage to the dam and could have affected its integrity.”
Two of the most common causes of earthen dam failure, said Harris, are “over-topping flow” and “uncontrolled seepage.” By 2014, Harris said that the team was “well along with the design” when ODNR parks personnel noticed seepage near the downstream end of the south spillway wall.
“It was a little bit of trickle flow. By August 29, it was a large, concentrated flow and it had increased quite a bit,” said Harris. “Everybody mobilized to the site (ODNR, ODOT) and the road was closed because we were concerned about the safety of the dam. The lake level was dropped quickly, and we were at the dam 24/7 for several weeks ... Uncontrolled seepage is dangerous because when it is left unchecked it can start eroding the soils that make up the dam, or the soils that are in the foundation. This can eventually lead to collapse.”
Investigatory measures were taken “right away,” said Harris, including drilling and taking samples of the dam, dye testing, drilling a series of holes in the spillway floor, and injecting a polyurethane grout mixture to “temporarily seal the openings.”
“Those were temporary measures until we could do something more permanent. Once we had a handle on what happened on Labor Day weekend 2014, we could move on to complete plans for construction over the next few months,” said Harris. “The main elements were protecting the dam’s face from erosion should it be over-topped again, improving the safety of the roadway and bringing the road up to current design standards, cutting off the seepage in front of the spillway, replacing the bridge, and installing a new lake drain, in addition to other improvements.”
The lake drain’s purpose, said Harris, is “to give the owner of the dam the ability to lower the lake if you need to do maintenance activity or a routine inspection.”
“Before, the lake didn’t have a lake drain. There was one in the original construction, but it was abandoned many years ago,” he said. “During the 2014 seepage event, in order to lower the lake, once we got to the winter pool level ... the only way it could be lowered further was we had to bring in siphon pipes — big, black pipes that went through the spillway and out into the lake ... That’s not a very convenient thing to do if you need to lower the lake quickly.”
Harris stated that the lake drain “has nothing to do” with the small, black pipes coming out of the roller-compacted (RCC) concrete. To combat erosion on the upstream side of the dam, Harris said the contractor excavated a few feet of soil and put down a small bed of gravel and large rock over the top.
“As you get wave action over the top, it won’t erode the upstream slope ... RCC concrete was the method chosen to protect the dam against erosion. It’s similar to conventional concrete. It has sand, gravel, cement, a little fly ash, and water in it, as regular concrete does, but the proportions are quite different. It is much drier than normal concrete, so it can be hauled in place with earth-moving equipment and placed much faster and more economically than regular concrete,” said Harris. “This is a very common method of protecting dams that are subject to over-topping.”
“All concrete cracks when it cures and dries out,” said Harris.
“Moisture escapes. The purpose of the RCC is not to hold water back, so it is OK that it will crack every so many feet as the water evaporates and dries out. That’s nothing to be concerned about,” he said. “All earth dams have seepage. There’s never been an earth dam built that didn’t have some seepage. Seepage, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. What you don’t want to have is uncontrolled seepage.”
(Part 2 of this story will run on Wednesday, October 4.)