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Archive for Monday, August 24, 2009

City Commissioners Tuesday to authorize nearly $2.5 million in Bowersock repairs

City hopes $2.5M enough for Bowersock Dam facelift

The city is preparing to authorize $2.45 million to fix the aging Bowersock Dam across the Kansas River in Lawrence, pictured at right. This photograph is a view looking north from the top floor of City Hall. Visible at far upper left is Burcham Park.

The city is preparing to authorize $2.45 million to fix the aging Bowersock Dam across the Kansas River in Lawrence, pictured at right. This photograph is a view looking north from the top floor of City Hall. Visible at far upper left is Burcham Park.

August 24, 2009

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City commission discusses Bowersock improvements

It could take more than $2 million to shore up the Bowersock Dam. Enlarge video

It will cost nearly $2.5 million to repair the more than 100-year-old Bowersock Dam on the Kansas River.

More accurately, city leaders are hoping that it doesn’t cost any more than that.

Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting today are expected to hire a contractor for the repair job and authorize spending up to $2.45 million on the project.

After that, they’ll keep their fingers crossed.

“It will be a challenge,” said Chuck Soules, city director of public works. “It will be interesting to see what it looks like.”

No one has gotten a clear look at the face of the Bowersock Dam since 1978, when the state had that portion of the river relatively dry to build the downtown Kansas River bridges.

How much the dam has deteriorated in those 31 years isn’t known. But city leaders are undertaking the project after an engineering team with Black & Veatch wrote in a report that they were unable to “determine if the dam is in immediate danger of failing, as significant structural concerns exist.”

City engineers don’t wholeheartedly agree with that report, but regardless, the analysis has created concerns with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is the agency responsible for monitoring the dam.

“There are some areas where water is coming through the dam,” Soules said. “The dam has a wood truss structure underneath the concrete. If water is getting in there, the concern is the wood is rotting. If the wood rots, the concern is the concrete part of it will collapse.”

Regulators with FERC have ruled that the flashboards on the dam — which give the dam an extra 4 feet in height — can’t be raised until some repairs are made.

City’s interest

The city is funding the project by itself. The adjacent hydroelectric plant operated by the Bowersock Mills and Power Co. is dependent upon the dam, but company leaders have said they can’t afford to undertake the project. The city has deemed the project critical because without the dam, the water level in the river would not be adequate to efficiently operate the city’s Kaw Water Treatment Plant.

“The best way to see the challenge of losing the dam is to look downstream of the dam,” City Manager David Corliss said. “In many cases you see that it is a braided stream.”

Corliss said the project will be paid for through water rates. He said 2010 rates approved by the City Commission last month are adequate to cover the costs, although some maintenance projects in other parts of the community will have to be postponed to make the numbers work.

Complex process

The project will create quite a sight for motorists on the Kansas River bridges. By mid-September a small work barge will be floating on the upstream side of the dam to drill holes — perhaps up to 50 feet deep — in the riverbed. Then a large crane with a special hammering device will drive sheet piling — a type of retaining wall — into the river.

The sheet piling will keep the area between the piling and the dam relatively dry while workers fill the area with rock, and then pour a concrete cap over the area in front of the dam. The new structure is designed to protect the face of the existing dam.

“We wanted to do it this way instead of opening the old dam up,” Soules said. “Nobody wants to do that. It is just a like a project at your house. If you start tearing into things, you’re bound to run into other issues.”

City leaders will hope for little rain during the project. High water levels on the project could cause more than $100,000 worth of rock and other materials to be washed away before the job is completed.

“It won’t just be the rain we get in Lawrence,” Soules said. “It can rain here all it wants, but if it rains a lot upstream, then that could be a problem.”

The project, which could take until January to complete, will involve work on only the northern two-thirds of the dam. Water will continue to flow over the southern end of the dam. Soules expects the project to add about 50 years of life to the dam.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

Comments

50YearResident 5 years, 4 months ago

Where is all this money coming from? $2.5 for the dam, $11+ million for co-op plant, a train depot or two, a big donation to the new homeless shelter and lord only knows what else the city has in the works. I thought things were a little tight in the budget!

gccs14r 5 years, 4 months ago

If we're going to go to the trouble of messing with the dam, take the whole thing out and put in a proper modern structure with a working fish ladder. Sticking a wad of chewing gum in front of it is a waste of money. Besides, I can't believe it costs $2.5 million to dump a load of cement in the river.

leftylucky 5 years, 4 months ago

Before the public spends this money, it would be nice for the public to see the agreements that the city has with the Hill family. I believe that the dam belongs to the Hill family. When city hall was built, along with Riverfront mall and the parking garage all of the land belonged to the Hill family. A agreement was made about leasing the land from the Hill family for 100 years and the city would maintain the damn. Lets see the agreement(s) the city has with the Hill family.

imastinker 5 years, 4 months ago

I agree with lucky. There seems to be a real benefit to the city here - but that is a LOT of money to spend on something the city doesn't own....

oldtimer39 5 years, 4 months ago

"The city is funding the project by itself. The adjacent hydroelectric plant operated by the Bowersock Mills and Power Co. is dependent upon the dam, but company leaders have said they can’t afford to undertake the project."

If leftylucky is right about that agreement, it sounds like the Hill family got itself a pretty sweet deal: The city (i.e. the people of Lawrence) pays $2.4 million to repair the dam that the Hill's own, while the Hill's focus their money on the new $13 million hydroelectric plant across the river, eventually making much more than that thanks to the newly repaired dam and increased power output.

I sure hope there's more to the agreement that benefits the people of Lawrence, such as a provision where the Hill's chip in when critical repairs are required to the dam that they and the city both depend on.

Keith 5 years, 4 months ago

How dare you all question one of the old money families of Lawrence. They and the Simon's have been here 40 forevers and only have the best interest of the city at heart. If they make money on the deal, well accidents will happen.

bangaranggerg 5 years, 4 months ago

Hydroelectric what now? How does that work, you can't burn fossil fuels with water...?

BigPrune 5 years, 4 months ago

I'd like to see Merrill post some "Cost/Benefit" analysis requirements for the Bowersock Power Company. That is a pretty stiff infrastructure cost and how many people do they employ? Will the $2.5 million the City spends be given back as a "carbon credit" whatever THAT is? Also, is this story coinciding with Obama's big stimulation funding story for Douglas County for economic development, and will the expense ultimately be taken from those funds?

Danimal 5 years, 4 months ago

I agree with some of the other posters that it's time to demo this old time and start fresh with a new dam. The fact that this dam is well over 100 years old and its foundations are constructed of boulders and timber are reason enough to replace it.

bender 5 years, 4 months ago

"The city has deemed the project critical because without the dam, the water level in the river would not be adequate to efficiently operate the city’s Kaw Water Treatment Plant."

I'd like more details on that. Specifically, would it cost less than $2.5 million to retrofit the water treatment plant to maintain the efficiency? I'm assuming the lost efficiency is because the current pumps couldn't draw as many gallons/second if the river level is lower. Seems like $2.5 million could increase the pumping capacity.

I don't pretend to be an expert on this, but seems like the Hill's are getting a sweet deal here and I think we should just stop to consider whether the citizens of Lawrence truly need that dam. If we can live without it, I say let it go or let the Hills fix it.

Keith 5 years, 4 months ago

"Some folks are born silver spoon in hand Lord don't they help themselves oh But when the tax man comes to the door Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes"

John Fogarty said it, I believe it, that settles it.

farva 5 years, 4 months ago

fish ladder would be a dumb idea, glad it's not incorporated. This dam is the only thing keeping the invasive silver carp from moving upstream.

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