W.Va. dam gets attention from state, federal leaders

By Justin D. Anderson
Daily Mail Capitol Reporter

ELIZABETH, W.Va. - Federal and state officials will study what to do about the deteriorating Wells Lock and Dam in Wirt County.

The agencies will have a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Wirt County Courthouse in Elizabeth to talk about what the study entails and to solicit ideas from the public.

"It's the only remaining structure of several that were on the Little Kanawha," said Brian Long, head of the state DEP's dam safety program.

"It's not in good condition. It's deteriorating and in danger of failing under high river conditions or ice jams."

County officials for years have worried about the condition of the structure. If it fails, there is no danger to anything downstream, officials believe. But roads and other infrastructure upstream near Elizabeth could slide towards the river. The lock and dam was originally built of wood in the late 1880s, said Joe McCallister, the Army Corps of Engineers' manager for the project. It was called a "wicket" dam, a method developed in the 1850s by the French Corps of Engineers.

There used to be five such structures along the Little Kanawha to allow barge traffic to travel from Parkersburg to Grantsville during the oil boom.

The wooden apparatus was torn out and replaced with a series of "cofferdams," made of round tubes of steel sheet piles filled with rocks and topped with concrete.

Cofferdams are currently in use at the Marmet Locks and Dam in Kanawha County.

The Army Corps of Engineers took over the Wells dam in the early 1900s, McCallister said. It was originally built and owned by the private Little Kanawha Navigation Co.

So far, the agencies have identified three options for the dam. They could do nothing, repair the existing structure or tear it out in a controlled way and replace it, McCallister said.

The DEP's Long said divers for the agency found that water was able to get through the concrete caps of some of the piles and wash out the rock filler inside.

The study should take about a year to complete, Long said.

Right now, the DEP is working to either come up with cash or identify officials in-house who can do parts of the study, such as an environmental assessment. That would count as an in-kind service toward the state's share of the cost of the study, Long said.

McCallister said the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't yet have all of its half of the money for the project. He said corps officials still are waiting for the federal budget for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 to be finalized.

Once the study is completed, the Army Corps of Engineers will look for a partner to design the recommended work. Then the agency would look for a partner to help pay for the construction, McCallister said.

Long said the eventual cost of stabilizing the dam is not known but could be about $1 million.

Contact writer Justin D. Anderson at jus...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843.


See also

Wells Lock And Dam Wirt Attraction

Historic Wells Lock & Dam In Serious Disrepair

Wells Lock And Dam - Standing Monument To LK Riverboat Days

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