NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 29, 2016) – During a visit to Nashville and Old Hickory Dam today, Brig. Gen. Richard G. Kaiser, commanding general of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division and regional Corps authority on Old Hickory Dam safety issues, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, Tennessee 5th District congressman, and members of their staffs met to discuss safety concerns local leaders have regarding the operation of a quarry adjacent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Old Hickory Dam.
State Representatives Bill Beck, John Ray Clemmons, and Harold Love, Jr. State Senator Steve Dickerson, and Metro Council member Larry Hagar also attended. The meeting allowed Corps leaders to discuss in detail the scientific and engineering data supporting their position and to address several widely held misconceptions regarding the safety of the dam.
“I am neither for, nor against the quarry,” said Kaiser. “I am for the safety of Old Hickory Dam and the safety of the public affected by Old Hickory.”
The general went on to explain that his division is home to the USACE Dam Safety Center of Expertise, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of more than 600 Corps dams nationwide, including Old Hickory Dam, a responsibility the Corps takes very seriously.
“We implement a dam safety program nationwide to ensure our dams deliver their intended benefits while reducing risks to people, property and the environment. We do this through continuous assessment, communication and management,” said Kaiser.
The general went on to explain the Corps' position based on this expertise. “Corps dam safety experts have completed a preliminary analysis and have concluded that risks are extremely low for any damage whatsoever to Old Hickory Lock and Dam or its embankment due to the proposed quarry operations,” the general added.
The morning began with some time with the media and was followed by a closed briefing to Nashville’s leaders. Using overhead imagery and the quarry developers submitted site plan, Corps experts discussed the factors and science involved in ensuring Old Hickory’s safety, to include soil composition, the distances involved, and worst case failure scenarios.
“It was good to sit down face to face and to walk the site with regional leaders from both Nashville and the Corps to discuss such a contentious issue and to present our scientific and engineering analysis, especially given the amount of misinformation on the topic,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Murphy, Nashville District commander.
Corps officials addressed several misconceptions that have played prominently in the public debate, such as improbable impacts downstream and stories of a past failure of the embankment.
“The Corps initial analysis showed that even in a worst case breach scenario, the resulting rise in water in Nashville would remain below flood stage and certainly would not be anywhere similar to what Nashville experienced in May 2010,” said Murphy. “The science just isn’t there to support these claims.”
Addressing the quarry’s impact on the extremely popular beach nearby, the Corps’ highlighted its confidence in the state agencies and leaders ensuring enforcement of existing quarry operations regulations.
The Corps representatives paid particular attention as well to making sure local leaders understood that there has never been an embankment failure at Old Hickory.
Mike Zoccola, Nashville District’s chief of Civil Design and a nationally recognized dam safety expert, clarified that a photo shown depicting a failure was actually depicting, a slide 1000-feet downstream of the dam that occurred in 1956 that had no connection with the dam.
“We take the safety of our facilities very seriously and don’t want the public thinking that Old Hickory as has failed before,” said Zoccola.
“My Nashville District recommends, and I agree, that if the proposed rock quarry becomes operational, we will execute enhanced monitoring of blast vibrations to validate our findings and facilitate field adjustments in the quarry's operation,” said Kaiser. “Under no circumstances will the Corps of Engineers agree to blast operations that exceed tolerable limits, which would cause any damage to Old Hickory Lock and Dam."
Kaiser reiterated the Corps’ commitment to dam safety and to communicating risk to the public. The Nashville District’s paper outlining its findings, titled “Preliminary Analysis of Potential Vibration Impact to Old Hickory Lock and Dam from Proposed Quarry Operations” is open to the public and is available on the Nashville District’s website, which is located at http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Media/OldHickoryRockQuarry.aspx. The Corps will continue to work with local and regional leaders to provide factual engineering analysis and help identify solutions to ensure that Old Hickory dam and the public remain safe.
(For news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District go to the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)