Newport City Councilors finally got their “big picture” description Tuesday of what should be done about the town’s two earthen dams up Big Creek – both of which are forecasted to fail completely in a Cascadia Subduction earthquake – which could happen any time, according to geologists. A failure of the upper dam, especially, would send a huge surge of water down-canyon and take out a lot of homes. There could also be some peripheral damage to the city’s water treatment facility.
Officials from HDR Engineering (HDRinc.com), a world-wide based firm with a huge track record of successful projects with 8,500 employees, laid it on the line to the city council Tuesday. They said that the city’s two earthen dams on Big Creek will fail and fail completely. However, they added that they believe they can design a dam that will not only survive a big earthquake, it’ll still be operating or be so little damaged that it can be brought back on line fairly quickly. But the concrete-rolled project will be pricey. $50 million was a figure used throughout their meeting with the council.
HDR representatives said the key is to build the rolled concrete dam just downstream from the town’s currently existing upper dam and make sure the sides and base are firmly built into bedrock.
Then there is the sticky issue of how does a town of 10,000 souls write a check for a minimum of $50 Million? With federal and state grants and loans, of course. The city has employed a grants and loan recruiting firm that specializes in streamlining and “bullseyeing” various granting agencies. The firm has been a boon to the city on other projects and Tuesday they outlined their approach to tackling this rather large challenge.
The next step in all this is to develop a preliminary design for the dam. Once that’s accomplished the city will have to work its way up the grants and loans food chain to develop a final design, and then construction. As for when the dam can be up and running, Public Works Director Tim Gross surmised, 5 years at the least. Maybe longer.