Lynn Schoonover, director for the Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau, had no idea how big the HorseThief Reservoir dam project is planned to be.
She's driven by its location before along Kansas Highway 156 in Hodgeman County.
"I was absolutely amazed," she said after traveling Monday to HorseThief to view work.
Schoonover was part of a group that included County Administrator Pete Olson; County Commissioners Larry Jones, Bob Baker and Cliff Mayo; Garden City Mayor David Crase; City Manager Matt Allen; Holcomb City Administrator Robin Pena and others who visited HorseThief to see the progress being made as contractors shoot for a completion of November 2009. Some of the visitors, like Schoonover, were seeing the site for the first time. Schoonover said she believes the water attraction will be a draw for southwest Kansas, adding HorseThief far exceeded what she'd expected it to be and is far from a "hole in the ground."
Jones and Crase also had never visited HorseThief before. Crase voted in 2005 along with other voters in Hodgeman, Finney, Ford and Gray counties to approve a 0.15-cent sales tax to fund the 450-acre recreational lake and reservoir project. Like Schoonover, Crase believes once completed, HorseThief will be an asset for the area. He said he can remember as a kid when Lake McKinney in Kearny County had more water in it and how it acted as a draw for those in the area.
Jones said he was impressed by the project's size, saying it's quite a dam they're building.
"But I guess for $15 million, it better be," he said.
Jones said he's still a bit pessimistic whether the lake will actually fill with water, adding "but it'll be a great facility if it does.
"I just hope we get some rain," he said.
On Monday, as the group stood watching construction crews work, construction manager Bob Frazey, with construction engineering firm URS Corp., pointed to a portion of the dam, telling Baker "it'll be almost 90 feet right here."
The dam is planned to be more than 7,200 feet long and about 86 feet high. According to Ron Allen, manager for the Pawnee Watershed District, the project is running about two weeks behind, but he added that time can be made up. Frazey and Montezuma construction firm Max Jantz Excavating plan for the project to finish up about a month ahead of schedule.
The slurry trench is complete, Allen said, and the principal spillway is nearly done - "two things that make it a dam," he said. According to HorseThief's Web site, the pipe extending through the dam is termed the "principal spillway." It's designed and sized to release excess water in the reservoir in a controlled way - the elevation at which it is placed determines the normal maximum water level in the reservoir.
The slurry trench prevents water from traveling through or under the dam.
The dam marks the 49th for the Pawnee Watershed District.
Allen said the cost of the project is about $14.5 million - there's been some cost escalation because of unexpected finds, such as some of the site's rock being deeper than expected. However, Allen said, those with the watershed budgeted some for unexpected items, adding the project's budget is fine at this point.
Allen's been with the watershed for about seven years, saying it's an exciting time for him and his board of directors as the structure comes up and the project nears completion. He still has trouble, though, as he looks out on construction picturing exactly what it will all look like when done.
Currently, water coming in on the land from recent rains is being pumped over the dam so crews can continue their work, Allen said. The structure is planned to be filled through runoff, he said, adding there's 200 square miles of drainage area to pull water from.
Every day, the site has between 40 and 50 employees working - crews have been working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week.
There's a public viewing site near the dam where people can watch construction. Allen said there are always people at the site.
"It's getting some area-wide interest," he said.
For more information on HorseThief, visit www.horsethiefres.com.