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Workers brave chilly water to inspect Philpott Dam
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Divers work from a platform attached to Philpott Dam on Thursday. The divers are inspecting the dam for any anomalies, such as cracks, and likely will be here until Tuesday. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Structural engineers who also are deep-water divers are descending into cold, dark waters to inspect the concrete surfaces of the upstream face of Philpott Dam.

“This dive inspection is a preventative routine to look for anomalies or irregularities,” according to Rocky Rockwell, operations project manager at Philpott Lake for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The inspection is being done by a team of seven or eight divers from Seamar, Rockwell said. The divers are from such places as Miami, Houston and Puerto Rico.

According to its website, Seamar, an independently owned and operated company, provides subsea construction and inspection services to the domestic and international oil and gas industry operating at water depths up to 300 feet in the Gulf of Mexico and select Latin American markets.

The project at Philpott started Monday, and the team probably will be here through Tuesday, Rockwell said. Divers are using floating platforms assembled against the upstream side of the dam.

As of early Thursday afternoon, divers had found only a few surface cracks in the strata where water freezes in winter, and no cracks below that, Rockwell said. “That’s what we expected,” he added.

Divers wear wet suits, diving helmets and air tanks, but air is pumped to them from the surface through an umbilical cord. Hot-water hoses also are part of the umbilical cord. Divers can regulate the hot water hoses to stay as warm as they want, Rockwell said.

The water temperature is in the 60s at the top part of the lake and about 40 degrees at the bottom part, Rockwell said. Divers are descending a maximum of 130 feet, Rockwell said.

The data gathered from the inspection will establish a baseline of what the surface of the dam looks like under water, Rockwell said.

During the project, according to a news release, the Corps of Engineers will be generating electricity, and thereby releasing water, on a delayed schedule each day. This is because no generation can occur while the dive team is working.

“We highly recommend that people use the generation telephone line, (276) 629-2432, to keep apprised of the schedule,” the release says.

Philpott Dam was built in the early 1950s to provide flood risk management, hydropower and recreation to the region, the release states.


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