- Cullman, Alabama

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October 3, 2013

City approves $117,000 ‘second look’ engineering study for Duck River Dam project

Second engineering firm hired after cost jumps $40 million

CULLMAN — City officials will spend more than $100,000 seeking a second opinion on the proposed Duck River dam, after some site-specific construction issues swelled the cost of the project by $40 million.

Following a full-scale engineering study over the past several months, the utilities board received word a few weeks ago that the total cost of the project is expected to jump from $70 million to approximately $110 million due to less-than-favorable geology and higher flood standards at the dam site in northeast Cullman County.

The cost increase is largely tied to an abundance of clay layers recently discovered at the construction site, which essentially made the original design untenable. Engineers say the latest redesign will work at the site, but at a considerable increase in cost.

To ensure the new cost study is accurate — and that more changes can’t be made to the design to reduce costs — the Cullman utilities board has contracted with URS Corporation to conduct a full third-party review for a total cost of $117,395. This cost is in addition to all existing expenses with engineer of record CH2M Hill.

“With the cost overrun as much as it was, we just felt it was extremely important to double check the numbers and make absolutely sure we didn’t miss anything,” project manager Dale Greer said. “The mayor had a great analogy, that it’s like your doctor telling you you have cancer — you’d obviously want a second opinion, just to be sure. We’ve told them our ultimate goal is to get the cost down to try and lower the water rates for our folks.”

The engineering review will seemingly put every option on the table, from changing the design again to reducing the size and scope of the lake and dam.

Per the contract, the URS team will work to confirm the design objectives and design criteria are still appropriate for current conditions; ensure the design safely and effectively meets the objectives of the project; confirm the design is consistent with industry practices; ensure the design adequately addresses site-specific geological conditions and risks; confirm the cost estimate is reasonable with the appropriate degree of contingencies; and determine if there are alternatives for reducing cost by changing the design criteria or overall size of the project.

Engineers with CH2M Hill are set to provide documents to URS this week, with the review set to take place over the next two months. The company plans to provide a final report back to the utilities board in early December.

Officials say the accelerated time frame is needed to keep the project on schedule to  bid the next phase in spring 2014, to guarantee the dam is complete be the 2016 deadline noted in the dam permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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