Repairs to add 50 years to dam

It’s been labeled a 50-year fix.

City commissioners Tuesday evening unanimously supported a plan to begin repairing the northern half of the Bowersock Dam on the Kansas River.

“I think this step here is to help assure us and everybody in the community that ample supplies of fresh drinking water are always going to be there,” Commissioner Mike Amyx said.

City staff members have devised a plan to begin repairs hopefully sometime after mid-August. The project will cost anywhere from $2 million to $2.5 million.

The project would allow a construction crew to create a temporary cofferdam with rocks west of the dam. That would lower the water level and allow workers to add steel sheet piles and concrete to fill holes on the dam.

City and state officials have voiced concerns about rotting of the upstream portion of the dam, made of timber and built in the 1870s.

If the dam were to fail, it would compromise the two Kansas River bridges near downtown. It would also be difficult for the nearby Kaw Water Treatment Plant to operate, forcing the city to rely solely on the Clinton Lake treatment plant, which would be difficult during peak water use times, city staff members said.

Commissioners have also touted the dam’s proximity to the adjacent Bowersock Mills and Power Co., which actually owns the dam. The city is responsible for maintenance costs because of a 1977 agreement.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to expand hydroelectric power in this community,” Mayor Rob Chestnut said.

Commissioners agreed to waive the project’s formal bidding process mainly because Hamm Construction and United Construction companies are currently working just miles upstream on the Kansas Turnpike Authority’s bridge overhaul.

But city staff members say they will keep their options open, which could include expanding repairs to the southern end of the Bowersock Dam as well. Commissioners will likely get a maintenance contract to consider later this year, and city officials said they would likely seek additional project funding from state, federal and private sources.

In other business, commissioners:

l Set an Aug. 4 public hearing date on a proposal to amend a special-use permit for the Lawrence Community Shelter, 214 W. 10th St., to expand its overnight sleeping capacity to 73 people. The extra capacity is needed after The Salvation Army recently closed its overnight shelter.

l Approved adding bike lanes along West Ninth Street from Tennessee to Indiana streets, which would take away street parking spaces.

l Deferred a decision until Tuesday on establishing a school zone on George Williams Way adjacent to Langston Hughes School, 1101 George Williams Way.