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Archive for Wednesday, March 4, 2009

City to pay at least $1M for needed dam repair

City commissioners are willing to spend at least $1 million to make emergency repairs to the aging Bowersock Dam, but they were told Tuesday the 135-year-old dam could easily need $8 million or more worth of work.

March 4, 2009

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Should the city rebuild Bowersock Dam?

I think it should be a joint venture between the owners of Bowersock and the city because it is a landmark.

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City commissioners are willing to spend at least $1 million to make emergency repairs to the aging Bowersock Dam, but they were told Tuesday the 135-year-old dam could easily need $8 million or more worth of work.

The $1 million is already in the city’s budget, but commissioners did not come up with a plan for how to pay for millions of additional dollars worth of work.

They did agree, though, that they’re going to have to start figuring.

“Quite honestly, we don’t have a choice but to fix the dam,” Commissioner Sue Hack said. “It has to be as economical as possible, but we don’t have the choice as a community to do nothing.”

Commissioners were told by engineers that if the dam were to fail, the two adjacent Kansas River bridges that lead to downtown also would be seriously compromised.

“Removal of the dam is really not an option,” said Clay Adams, district engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The loss of the dam also would cause the water level of the Kansas River to drop enough that it would be difficult for the nearby Kaw Water Treatment Plant to operate. The city has emergency plans to allow the plant to continue operating in the event of a failure, but does not have a good long-term solution for how to keep the plant running.

“This is an issue that could change the face of Lawrence if we don’t do what we need to do to take care of the dam,” Mayor Mike Dever said.

Commissioners tentatively agreed that the first step is to build a coffer dam — a temporary dam just upstream of the dam — later this year to allow engineers to get their first look in about three decades at the face of the structure. At that time they also want to do about $700,000 worth of work to plug holes in the dam.

Commissioners are hoping they can do all the work for the $1.1 million that currently is built into the city’s utility budget. City staff members expressed concern over that idea. They estimated a coffer dam alone would cost $500,000 to $1 million to construct.

But Stephen Hill, whose family owns the adjacent Bowersock Mills & Power Co., said the coffer dam likely could be built for $350,000. He said that is an estimate he has received from the company who has built coffer dams at other locations on the Kansas River.

Hill’s company also technically owns the dam, but a 1977 contract calls for the city to pay for maintenance costs associated with the dam. That deal was struck when the city was purchasing land from Hill’s family for the current City Hall.

Hill told commissioners that his company — which uses the dam to generate electricity — had no ability to pay for the dam’s maintenance.

In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the flashboards be lowered because regulators were concerned about the structural integrity of the dam. FERC’s concerns came after a city engineering report in 2006 found that it could not be determined “if the dam is in immediate danger of failing, as significant structural concerns exist.”

The city in the past has used money from water rates to pay for dam maintenance. Staff members also said using property tax funds would be an option, as well as looking at ways to tap into federal stimulus money.

City staff members on Tuesday agreed to further research the cost of constructing a coffer dam, and to report back to commissioners in the next several weeks.

In other news, commissioners unanimously:

• agreed to allow several streets near The Oread hotel project at 12th and Indiana streets to remain closed until at least Dec. 31 to accommodate construction of the hotel.

• directed staff to issue a building permit for G-Force Athletics to begin work at 725 N. Second Street.

— Visit city reporter Chad Lawhorn's Town Talk blog.

Comments

lch2orat64 5 years, 1 month ago

To spankyandcranky- Really? It's located just downstream of the 2 bridges over the Kansas River - North of 6th St.(by the City Hall Building) & South of Elm on the North Lawrence side of the River...

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bearded_gnome 5 years, 1 month ago

thanks much MStewart, very informative. but why doesn't Bowersock sell the electricity for a higher price then? and then, the old style generation system could be replaced with more modern hydroelectric generation?

I do understand how the dam helps the bridges, and those bridges are pretty important to north lawrence and access to I70.

I didn't know the river is trying to move south. when you go and stand by the river you typically can't even hear it, when you're downriver. but it certainly has force and there are several times a year when it runs high and fierce.

when the coffer dam is built I wonder what can be found on the exposed river bottom before the dam. could be interesting.

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tunahelper 5 years, 1 month ago

take the one million from bill self's salary since the jayhawks got KILLED by Texas Tech!!!!

overrated!!!

overrated!!!

overrated!!!

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Kyle Reed 5 years, 1 month ago

What things? Contractual agreements? Doesn't work that way genius.

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Chris Ogle 5 years, 1 month ago

Akreed: When the going gets tough, things change. Deal with it.

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Kyle Reed 5 years, 1 month ago

The city has an obligation to pay for the repairs per agreements made way back in the day. It's not optional, popular or not. All the bitching and moaning in the world isn't going to change that. Deal with it.

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spankyandcranky 5 years, 1 month ago

Thank you mstewart for answering so many questions. I've never even seen this dam. Where is it, exactly?

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Multidisciplinary 5 years, 1 month ago

jason, try it this way: City to pay at least $1M for needed repair..dam!

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Keith 5 years, 1 month ago

"And it wouldn't hurt to show a little confidence in the company - they've been working the dam since the Quantrill raid. It just could be that they've got some experience in the matter."

But even with all that experience, they still haven't saved enough over all those years to pay for the upkeep.

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mstewart 5 years, 1 month ago

And the dam having problems isn't news - it's a long known issue. It just hasn't received the attention it required until it became a potential tragedy.

And yes, the constant through flow of the river is destructive to it's current [ha ha] configuration. It is clear from a longitudinal view that the river is trying to move south - it was once common practice to lash rusting automobiles to the banks in an attempt to keep the river from advancing into the city proper. Without the backpressure of the dam and the flashboards, the river will be free[er] to change it's course. And anyone who has witnessed the flood season will attest to the power of a several-ton tree impacting the bridge pylons, impacts the bridge will not withstand unscathed. Believe it - as the dam goes, so go the bridges. Building replacement bridge[s] will be much more expensive than protecting the extant ones.

Consider it in scale - this repair project is an ounce of prevention. Lawrence cannot afford the pound of cure.

And it wouldn't hurt to show a little confidence in the company - they've been working the dam since the Quantrill raid. It just could be that they've got some experience in the matter.

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mstewart 5 years, 1 month ago

I've seen several comments over different aspects of this issue, and would like to respond to a few:

Yes, the dam is built of 135 year old trees covered with rocks and paved over. It was the technology of the day and was not expected to work forever. The fact that it's lasted as long as it has has only been because of the continuous efforts by the city and the company, and a generous amount of luck.

The raising of the flashboards benefits both the powerplant and the City. However, the income from the energy the plant produces never amounted to much more than upkeep costs on the plant itself, in my experience. The operating costs would bury the plant without the city's help; the cost of the wood alone is ruinous. The runners - 3 ton cast iron impellers that help turn the falling water into electricity - are hand made at great cost, and at least one of the seven must be replaced or repaired each year. Why so much? Because in the last century, the manufacturers of these items have closed shop, died out, or moved on. To even keep working, the lion's share of the income must be reinvested in plant maintenance.

I certainly don't know of any stock holders getting rich off of their Bowersock Power Plant investments, and I believe I've met the majority of them. Given that the amount Bowersock sells it's power for is a fraction - a small fraction - of the rate it is resold for, it is easier to see how the plant struggles to continue operating.

FERC is an acronym standing for Federal Energy Regulation Commission. That should help people understand the two year wait. Which situation should requires more attention from the Feds - a dam in the Midwest that no-one can verify the condition of, or a nuclear power plant with a leaky steam valve? Two years is a blistering turn-around speed for this kind of action.

How many readers recall the water shortages during the summer months? Imagine how bad it will if the dam fails. The city - that's you - can require over a million cubic feet of water per day to keep in the lifestyle it leads during the hot months. If the dam goes, how much bottled water are citizens going to buy to bathe their dogs and water their lawns?

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kmat 5 years, 1 month ago

Sigmund - you aren't the only one. Mine went up to. City is screwing us left and right.

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hipper_than_hip 5 years, 1 month ago

Here's some of the green energy that you've been wishing for, so put up or shut up.

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Sigmund 5 years, 1 month ago

So is this need for taxes the reason why I have the only house in the county (possibly the country) that went up in value last year?

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tolawdjk 5 years, 1 month ago

depending on how the height increase was tied into existing damn structure, you wouldn't need to be able access the entire damn face to complete it. I could easily see a height increase accomplished with only a moderate level drop and not a complete face exposure.

And yeah, sure its all fine and dandy to ask for shared profits or shared costs, except for the fact that the city signed that contract.

I agree with whomever stated it previously, this project could have been an excellent prospect for stimulus money. Apparently city maintained infrastructure tied into green power? The ammount of tie ins to stimulus money would have been amazing. It wouldn't be money tied to an ongoing increase of local govt. and would have provided immediate jobs.

Instead we get head scratching and "hope we can figure this out" going into the river high flow spring.

Is the city even aware of what responsibilities it is on the hook for?

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northtown 5 years, 1 month ago

Paying for a system now?Nice round-a-abouts?New fire trucks coming,streets need repair?And they have known for years the dam had a problem,now more taxes,higher water bills to come. Lawrenc is a wonderful place,get ready to get bent over again!!!! And they still need to SLT!!!!!!!!!!!

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lch2orat64 5 years, 1 month ago

"...to allow engineers to get their first look in about three decades at the face of the structure." ? Perhaps the LJW needs more fact-checkers- to see what year it was that Bowersock dam was last under repair. I believe the overall height of the dam was increased to allow a higher head height for increased hydro power production. If I'm not mistaken I believe this was within the past 6 or 8 years. Why was there no inspection carried-out at that time? Would Bowersock Power, the City of Lawrence, the Journal-World, or the Hills like to comment?

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toe 5 years, 1 month ago

Do this only if the city can have a good share of the profits from the power plant.

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ocean 5 years, 1 month ago

bong hits for contractors!

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George_Braziller 5 years, 1 month ago

The Hill family and the city both benefit from the dam. Split the cost evenly between the two.

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gr 5 years, 1 month ago

Date of this article: March 4, 2009

"In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the flashboards be lowered because regulators were concerned about the structural integrity of the dam. FERC’s concerns came after a city engineering report in 2006 found that it could not be determined “if the dam is in immediate danger of failing, as significant structural concerns exist.”"

Does it take 2+ years for the FERC to act? To act on a "could not be determined" conclusion?

"So you T lovers still think we NEED the buses?

Forget the T, fix the dam."

Agree. Tax many for the few of the T. Tax many in higher water costs for ... the few?.... or the many who will want that water?

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Pudgy1 5 years, 1 month ago

"So much for preventative maintenance. Now the costs will be much higher."

So, KU is involved in this mess too??

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 5 years, 1 month ago

When the economy is good, we just bask in it. Then the economy turns south, and we become aware of how much we let slide.

Kind of reminds me of my home repairs...

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cowboy 5 years, 1 month ago

In 2008 the estimate was in the 300k range , then it goes to 1.8 million .

Its a prime project that if properly planned could have hit the stimulus package.

Another amateur hour process brought to you by the Lawrence " Asleep at the Wheel " city management.

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barrypenders 5 years, 1 month ago

Now the salmon will be able to return to San Juan Capistrano.

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consumer1 5 years, 1 month ago

I believe the issue of low water, is not that it would damage the bridge structure, but rather, the dam creates a back up of water which reduces the push on the pilons (sp). If the dam were removed every heavy rain would create a force of water coming downstream that the current design would not be able to handle. If you look at the water as it backs up behind the dam now, there is not that much forward momentum, but to remove the dam would create massive pressure at a continuous rate causing vibration/pressure and eventually erosion and failure. But I am not an engineer. This just make sense to me.

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Jason Bailey 5 years, 1 month ago

I misread the title of the article. In my mind it said, "City to pay at least $1M for needed, damn repair".

Would be more accurate if phrased this way.

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MacHeath 5 years, 1 month ago

folks, the water level needs to be kept constant for the water intakes for water treatment plant...the water you drink, wash clothes, and bath in. It isn't just for the hydro electric power. Oh yeah, and I am sure you would like to have those bridges fail. Maybe you would rather walk down to the river with a bucket, and take a ferry across?

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Jayson Hawk 5 years, 1 month ago

Many Lawrence residents were opposed to the City putting the city hall at it's current location. I was on a committee the City had in 1977 whose role was to discuss possible locations for the new City Hall and give recommendations. One of the group's recommendations was to not buy the Hill property. We gave suggestions for other possible locations. I don't remember those other locations now.

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 5 years, 1 month ago

"So you SLT lovers still think we NEED the road?

Forget the road, fix the dam."

What does the SLT (a federal/state project) have to do with the dam (a city project)?

Let's revise your thinking...

So you T lovers still think we NEED the buses?

Forget the T, fix the dam.

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Godot 5 years, 1 month ago

"Hill’s company also technically owns the dam, but a 1977 contract calls for the city to pay for maintenance costs associated with the dam. That deal was struck when the city was purchasing land from Hill’s family for the current City Hall."

The citizens solidly opposed the purchase of that land and the construction of the ugliest structure in Lawrence, but it was done anyway.So, not only do we have an inadequate, overly expensive city hall building, we are going to pay through the nose to maintain private, commercial property.

Does anyone know the makeup of the city council in 1977?

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jumpin_catfish 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes I do think we need the SLT and I say damn the dam, let nature take its course.

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Flap Doodle 5 years, 1 month ago

Can't they get some of the free billions of bucks that Barry is handing out to all & sundry?

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tumbilweed 5 years, 1 month ago

So you SLT lovers still think we NEED the road?

Forget the road, fix the dam.

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gsxr600 5 years, 1 month ago

So much for preventative maintenance. Now the costs will be much higher.

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Keith 5 years, 1 month ago

What? The bridges can take high water like the floods we had several years ago, but can't take low water if the dam is gone?

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Chris Ogle 5 years, 1 month ago

Staff members also said using property tax funds would be an option,

Here we go again.... thank you Lawrence....

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Bowhunter99 5 years, 1 month ago

vegetablegirl hasn't quite figure out how to r_e_a_d...

let's try again:

"but a 1977 contract calls for the city to pay for maintenance costs associated with the dam. That deal was struck when the city was purchasing land from Hill’s family for the current City Hall."

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vegetablegirl 5 years, 1 month ago

Of course the Hill family doesn't want to pay for the much needed repairs...

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