August 5, 2013 Share

Corps Engineers from Philadelphia District rappel, inspect Wolf Creek Dam

Chad Dahl, a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Special Rope Access Climb Team from the Philadelphia District lowers himself onto a concrete platform on the Wolf Creek Dam in Jamestown, Ky., as the team inspects the hydraulic radial gates and the structure for signs of corrosion and structural damages on July 24, 2013.
(Photo by Mark Rankin)

Suspended by rappelling cables and ropes 200 feet in the air, Carl Leunig, and Adrian Kollias, civil engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District and two civilian contractors, Eddie Page and Chad Dahl, precisely lower themselves along the concrete wall beside large spillway hydraulic radial gates at the Corps’ Wolf Creek Dam, in Jamestown, Ky., July 24 to inspect 10 tainter gates for signs of corrosion or structural damage.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Special Rope Access Climb Team is one of three specialized inspection teams USACE uses for inspection purposes that travels to a variety of locations offering districts specific support tailored to  the project needs. The others are in the San Francisco and Sacramento Districts. The team uses specialized ropes, cables, karabiners, and harnesses to rappel into, over, and down into those hard-toreach areas for inspection on bridges, dams and other large concrete and steel structures.

“We are ordinary civil engineers who get the opportunity to have a little adventure, risk and seriousness with our job,” said Leunig The inspection process of rappelling to locations allows the inspectors to visually and physically inspect any areas with possible damage or repairs. “Rappelling into a tight space or across a huge face of a tainter gate offers us the opportunity to see and touch any area normally hidden or difficult that can’t be spotted or touched from  above or below,” said Leunig.

The six-member team made up of four Corps employees and two contractors from California inspected the Wolf Creek Dam tainter gates, checked for corrosion, rust and structural damage. “Wolf Creek’s gates really looked good and  are in great shape because they have been maintained out of the water,” said Leunig.

“I thought it would be harder to rappel into some of the spaces because of what we saw on drawings, but we when we started down, we found some good anchor points, and the  inspection went well,” said Leunig.  Charlie Thomason, a civil engineer from the Nashville District said he’s thankful for the help from the Philadelphia team and he’s glad they were available to travel to  Jamestown, Ky., perform the inspection and provide vital information that will be used for future inspections, and upcoming maintenance.

“It is critical that inspections like this are complete, meticulous, detailed and accomplished to ensure the condition of our gates, and so that structures don’t have failures,” said Thomason. Leunig said the team is made up of civil engineers in the district and have great jobs in which they primarily work from their desks when not  climbing or providing service to sister USACE districts.

“Our inspectors are USACE certified through accredited USACE courses and certifications,” added Leunig. Kollias said it is critical that the team accesses any damage to structures early and by specifications. “We know that our  inspections help provide safety for a lot of people and we take it seriously,” said Kollias. As the team moves throughout the structure, they carry and use Ultrasonic testers to detect corrosion or structural damage to every gate and  beam. “This team makes inspections look easy by the way they are maneuvering around,” said Larry Craig, the Wolf Creek Power Plant superintendent from the Nashville District. “I understand why everyone’s not capable of doing this job.”

Craig said, like most large infrastructure around the world and particularly here in the United States, dams require yearly, continual inspections, maintenance and care to ensure their reliable operation, public safety that is detriment to  the community. “Wolf Creek Dam will always need maintenance and that’s one of the reasons the team is here,” said Craig. “This dam is also critical to our economy, community and livelihood and we’re glad it is in good condition.”

By Mark A. Rankin
Nashville District Public Affairs