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February 7, 2009

BLUESTONE DAM

Corps: Ongoing stability project will significantly improve safety

HINTON — For more than 60 years, Bluestone Dam has made life from Hinton to Point Pleasant considerably safer, preventing about $4.6 billion in flood damages to people living along the New and Kanawha rivers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives say.

However, considerable work will need to be finished if lives and property are to remain safe, they said. If Bluestone Dam were to fail, the results would be catastrophic.

“This nation cannot take a failure of Bluestone Dam. The consequences are enormous,” said Col. Dana R. Hurst, commander and district engineer for the Corps of Engineers’ Huntington District.

Hurst and other representatives conducted information sessions last week with reporters and residents in Hinton. Those attending were given updates on the 10-year, $250 million construction project to fully stabilize the dam and what dangers the community could face during a major disaster.

Hurst said Bluestone Dam was safe. Even if heavy precipitation struck, it would still be safe. But during what he called a “Noah’s Ark” flood, that would be an entirely different situation.

“Today, with its pool at 1,406.5 feet, that dam is safe,” he said. “If that rose one foot, it would still be safe. A week from now, it would still be safe.

“But at higher elevations, there is concern for its stability.”

Bluestone Dam began operation in 1949. Hurst said that when the dam was originally built and designed, it was constructed to withstand the worst event in history to that date. But after 1960, the National Weather Service began using models called “probable maximum precipitation.”

“Basically, this is a ‘Noah’s Ark’ rainfall event that could occur,” he explained.

Hurst said the dam’s foundation was also a major concern. Bluestone has 55 monoliths — individual pieces that came together during construction. The rock underneath the dam could cause those monoliths to slide.

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