LANCASTER, Tenn. (Oct. 27, 2015) – Local community leaders and Corps officials dedicated a new Tennessee state historical marker today that highlights the technical significance of Center Hill Dam and Powerhouse and the project’s authorized purposes, which include recreation, hydropower, and flood risk reduction.
During the unveiling ceremony at the Center Hill Dam Maintenance Facility, Lt. Col. Stephen Murphy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District commander, recognized that the dam and powerhouse are historically representative of the federal flood control power development of the early post World War II era.
“Center Hill is historically significant because the structure makes it eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and the historical marker we’re putting up will be the first one put up on any Nashville District dam in Tennessee,” Murphy said.
Murphy noted that the Corps used state-of-the-art structural design materials and state-of-the-art power generation equipment of the period to build this historically significant dam.
“The engineering that was done without computers, with slide rules and hand-drawn drawings is truly phenomenal to me,” Murphy said.
On a rainy day that demonstrated the value of the dam capturing water runoff in its reservoir, local officials talked about the many benefits of the project.
Tennessee State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, District 40, said it’s important to preserve the history of the dam and to be knowledgeable of how the dam still provides important resources to local citizens and tourists.
“Since 1951 Center Hill Power Plant has produced hydroelectric power that is marketed by the Southwestern Power Administration and sold to utility companies,” Weaver said. “So not only is it a historical marker, it provides juice and electricity for many, many Tennesseans most efficiently, and it also preserves a beautiful lake and a landmark for people to come (recreate).”
DeKalb County Mayor Tim Stribling said that since the dam’s impoundment 65 years ago, the lake has provided tremendous economic and recreational impact to regional communities.
“Center Hill Lake now has over three million visitors per year,” Stribling said. “These visitors provide an economic impact of over $70 million to our local economy, and that says so much for the lake and for the Corps.”
Stribling added that whether someone is fishing, swimming or boating on the lake, or trout fishing on the Caney Fork River below Center Hill Dam, Center Hill provides many recreational opportunities to visitors. He also mentioned that there are nine marinas that provide first-class amenities to the public.
“Many people have moved here because of the recreational opportunities at Center Hill Lake,” Stribling said. “And I can directly say that without Center Hill Lake, DeKalb County, wouldn’t be the same county that it is. But with Center Hill Lake it makes DeKalb County a great place of which to live, work and play.”
Construction of Center Hill Dam began in 1942, but World War II delayed its completion until 1951. The 246-foot-high and 2,160-foot-long dam impounds 64 miles of the Caney Fork River and is one of 10 dams the Nashville District operates and maintains within the Cumberland River Basin.
“This one in particular is one of the district’s largest water storage projects… the impact this on has just in flood control is pretty phenomenal,” Murphy said. “It holds back millions of acre feet of water… that we can use in times of heavy rain to prevent flooding downstream.”
Olga Beddingfield, operations manager for the Nashville District’s Mid-Cumberland Area, said Congress authorized the project in the Flood Control Act of 1938 to regulate river flows to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Beddingfield said since the Corps built Center Hill Dam it has played an integral role in transforming the social and economic conditions in the region, reduced major flooding events along the Cumberland River, saved countless lives, and protected industrial and agricultural areas downstream.
“Center Hill Lake and Dam provide a great resource to the local community and provide a way of life for those who choose to call this area home,” Beddingfield said.
The Nashville District operates nine hydropower plants and 28 hydropower units in the Cumberland River Basin, which produce about 3.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. Sales of this electricity yield about $40 million each year in revenue for the U.S. treasury.
Center Hill Powerhouse contains three main turbine generators with a combined rated capacity of 135,000 kilowatts, enough to power 12,000 homes, which reduces the cost of electricity during peak periods of the daytime. The three units can supply the needs of an average city of 125,000.
The Corps awarded a $47.25 million contract to Voith Hydro in June 2014 to rehabilitate the hydropower units at Center Hill Dam and recently disassembled the first unit in the early stages of the project.
The historical marker will now be placed at the Center Hill Dam overlook next along Tennessee Highway 96/141, which is located beside a parking lot before crossing the dam.
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