Herbert Hoover Dike repairs to resume in January

December 07, 2007


WEST PALM BEACH The Army Corps of Engineers is about to try again with the most challenging phase of its $856 million effort to fix the Herbert Hoover Dike, leaders said today.

How soon can they finish? That's for Congress to decide.

Corps contractors are scheduled begin digging Jan. 9 near Port Mayaca to embed a 60-foot-deep wall of clay and cement inside and under the leaky earthen dike. The corps had to scrap a similar effort last year after sand kept contaminating the wall.

This time, the corps has a new contractor: Maryland-based Hayward Baker Inc., which will be using a Japanese-invented technique for digging a trench and simultaneously injecting the clay-cement mixture, corps construction and operations chief Alan Bugg said.

Two other contractors are set to build future stages of the wall. And separate crews are in the middle of building a sand, rock and gravel berm outside the dike, aimed at preventing leaks from washing away pieces of earth.

The corps says the dike is one of its top national priorities, 1 years after a state engineering report accused the agency of placing "peripheral" concerns - such as saving money - ahead of public safety. Nationwide, the dike is one of six dams that the corps considers in "urgent and compelling" need of repairs.

"That is an incredible message," said Col. Paul Grosskruger, the corps' commander in Jacksonville, during a meeting with The Palm Beach Post's editorial board. "You're getting national-level support, national-level priority for funding."

But the corps concedes the repairs won't be finished until around 2030 at the current rate of congressional spending, roughly $50 million a year. Even the highest-priority section, the 22 miles from Port Mayaca to Belle Glade, wouldn't be done until 2013, spokeswoman Susan Jackson said this week.

"If we got twice the money, we'd cut it in half," Bugg said.

Until the repairs are done, the corps says it needs to keep the lake lower than usual to avoid stressing the dike. That means the dike's flaws are increasing the region's vulnerability to drought.

Another unanswered question is how much land the corps will need to finish building the berm outside the dike. That could have a major impact on communities such as Pahokee, which has most of its downtown sitting along the dike's flank.

The corps hopes to have an answer for the city by spring, Bugg said.

The drought-shrunken lake was at 10.2 feet above sea level Friday, far too low to pose any danger. But the risks could increase rapidly when the lake refills, a corps advisory panel warned last month.