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February 26, 2014

Blasting under way at Duck River quarry; Caution encouraged, no trespassing allowed

CULLMAN — With blasting under way at the Duck River Dam quarry, officials are urging caution for anyone who may want to visit or tour the site in the coming weeks and months.

Brasfield & Gorrie was awarded a bid for quarry development at the site, and work began on Feb.17. Blasting is expected to commence this week, and the majority of quarry work should be completed within 60 days.

The dam project will create a 640-acre lake with a 32-million-gallon-per-day capacity in northeast Cullman County, which will work in conjunction with the area’s current sole major water source Lake Catoma. The design will be a hybrid, with roller-compacted concrete in the center and earthen wings.

With more than 90 percent of the clearing work complete, the future lake has become a popular stop for trespassing hikers, bikers and ATV-riders in recent months. The site also has a park trail around the future-lake in the works, which will also be closed during blasting.

With blasting underway, city officials worry someone might miss the warnings and potentially be injured at the site.

“We are concerned about people who come out to the area and come out to the trail, that could be a safety issue,” project manager Dale Greer said.

Officials will likely renew a contract with the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office to resume patrols at the site to write citations and warnings for trespassers. Several “No Trespassing” signs are already posted around the site.

“That’s definitely something to consider, for safety concerns.”

Though the site will be closed to the general public, the overlook parking area above the site is still open, and shows a full view of the future lake.

“That’s a great, safe location to visit and check out how things are going,” project coordinator Susan Eller said. “That is open every day.”

The recent, heavy rainfall also led to two minor overflows at the site, which have been reported to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).

“There were some upset conditions with just too much water, and we reported those as required,” Steve Newton, with engineer of record CH2M Hill, said. “We’ve just got to hope Mother Nature will cooperate. But, when you’re dealing with a project of this scope, I think we’ve done a great job of protecting water quality out there.”

The total cost of the dam project is estimated at approximately $110 million, which is up approximately $40 million from initial estimates due to some unforeseen geological concerns at the site and higher-than-expected flood standards. Along with the increased price tag, local water rates will also be going up to cover the debt service for the project.

Those geological issues led engineers CH2M Hill to conduct a redesign of the project to fit the site as it stands, and the utilities board received a formal report from third-party engineers URS Corporation several months ago confirming the redesign plan is a sound option.

The 95 percent design is slated for completion on March 12. At that point, officials hope to have a better grasp on the project’s exact cost.

Construction is scheduled to bid on April 22, with plans to have contractors on site on the week of May 20. Officials say the tight timeline is needed to stay within the permit’s requirements to finish the dam by November 2016.

The Duck River project has been in the works for more than a decade, after being permitted by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers than subsequently delayed by environmental challenges that have since been resolved.

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.

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