By Robert Lucke
Dams, like people, sometimes need help as they grow older. Beaver Creek Dam, about 10 miles south of Havre, is no exception. Hill County Commissioners are expecting to hear from the public before considering a debt election to help with needed repairs at the dam.
Last year Hill County applied for a $75,000 grant and added to that $35,000 of county funds to hire HKM, a Billings engineering firm to study problems with the 35-year-old dam.
Now they are facing upgrades and repairs to the dam in excess of $400,000. The multi-use dam services flood prevention, irrigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife uses. During the last safety inspection several recommendations were given to the county. There were abutment problems with the outlet works and problems with the riprap on the upstream face of the embankment of the Beaver Creek Dam.
These problems are magnified at Beaver Creek Dam because it is designated a "high hazard" dam.
Marv Cross, dam safety man for this area with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, explained more.
"It is called a high hazard dam because were it to breach or wash out, there is a potential for a loss of life downstream," Cross said.
Hill County has developed a three-phase approach to the repairs. The first phase would address the outlet works. The proposed work would be completed in 2005.
There are a 10-inch and a 30-inch gate for regulating reservoir releases. The 30-inch regulating gate is broken. The county contacted the gate manufacturer, but it has changed the lift design. Hence, spare parts for the existing lift are no longer available.
The county has attempted to repair the gate but with no success.
The 30-inch slide gate is used for larger releases to manage water storage. Without this gate operating properly, there is more of a potential for lowland flooding during major moisture events.
Because of the limitations of the existing gate valves, it is very difficult to properly regulate reservoir water in a timely manner to minimize spring runoff problems and flood events.
The 30-inch gate was also created for lowering the water surface of the reservoir quickly in the event of needed emergency repairs.
Hill County is proposing to install a fixed-cone regulatory valve to replace the existing pressurized vault and slide gates. The estimated cost of phase one from a preliminary engineering assessment from HKM is $150,000. The county will apply for a $100,000 grant from the Renewable Resource Grant Program, which is administered by the DNRC. The county is proposing to hold a debt election for the remaining costs, which could range anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000, depending on what engineers find when getting started on the project.
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette weighed in on the necessity of the repairs.
"These repairs are essential to keep the dam functioning property and safely. Also it will increase the efficiency of the operation," she said.
Karen Hoffman, agricultural engineer of the Natural Resource and Conservation Service has worked hard on the dam proposals. NRCS was a financial partner in the dam construction along with Hill County and still maintains oversight duties.
"We recognize the need to repair and rehabilitate the dam," Hoffman said.
In 1971 Hill County adopted a 20-year general obligation bond of about $270,000 to help pay for its share of dam construction costs. That bond was paid off early.
"You know it is always a choice," said County Commissioner Doug Kaercher. "We want to keep the infrastructure up and keep the county operating in as safe a manner as we can. That is what is most important to the commissioners."
Hill County Health Department Sanitarian Heidi Bischoff acts as the dam coordinator. Her job is to get all the appropriate people together to make decisions about the dam and to oversee day-to-day dam operations.
"The dam is 30 years old now and needs to be improved. It has continually been maintained, but it has reached a point where more needs to be done," she added.
"These repairs are critical from a dam safety point," Cross said. "Without that gate functioning properly, there is no way to draw water out of there in an emergency."
Annmarie Robinson, deputy director of Bear Paw Development is in charge of drawing up the $100,000 dollar grant.
"It is a competitive grant," she said. "There are limited funds and it depends on how many applications there are whether or not we will receive it. We need to have all our work in by May 15 and we should know staff recommendations by December of 2002. Then it goes to the legislature and the earliest the money could be available is July of 2003."
Due to the debt election, officials are doubtful that work on the gate would begin until 2005.
Beaver Creek Dam is in good physical condition now," Cross said. "I want to commend the commissioners for taking this proactive approach in these dam repairs."
County commissioners will have a public hearing in the Commissioners' Office of the Courthouse on May 13 at 10 a.m. to hear from people who would like to discuss the project. Those people might include people living downstream from the dam, irrigators, recreationists and anyone concerned with Beaver Creek Dam and Reservoir.