Officials lower Lake Manatee water level to protect 'distressed' dam

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 18, 2014 

0218_BRLO_14_Dam

The level of Lake Manatee's waters will drop about two feet in the coming days as Manatee County releases water through dam spillways into the Manatee River. MATT M. JOHNSON/BRADENTON HERALD

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MANATEE -- Engineers continued Monday to evaluate the stability of the Lake Manatee Dam after county officials last week warned its clay core may have been compromised.

The base of the dam was still intact, and neighboring homes had not been evacuated as of Monday evening, said Bruce MacLeod, superintendent of Manatee County's Lake Manatee Water Treatment Plant, which supplies water to the county utility system.

Workers are slowly bringing lake levels down to 38 feet from its capacity of 40 feet as a precautionary measure.

"We're bringing the lake down to 39.09 (feet) this morning," he said Monday. "We're heading down to 38 (feet), and doing a very slow release.

"We don't want 'tail water'

on the backside," he added.

Last week, a consultant alerted county officials erosion had occurred and a four- or five-day rainfall could compromise the dam. The consultant made the report after in-depth testing and a review of cumulative data from the dam.

Engineers described the dam as "severely distressed."

Without immediate intervention, engineers predicted a high risk of an uncontrolled release.

The water treatment plant at 7914 Waterline Road provides drinking water to Manatee County residents. Sarasota County buys more than half its water from Manatee County.

County consultants will investigate the center of the dam to determine what must be done, said MacLeod.

"The engineers are figuring out what they want to investigate. It will take five to seven days, and then we'll know exactly where we'll need repair," said MacLeod.

Asked if the dam troubles are related to those forming the basis of a lawsuit Manatee County officials filed in 2012 against URS Corporation Southern of Tallahassee, MacLeod said they are unrelated.

The lawsuit contends breach of contract and professional negligence in connection with a project at the dam, in which a temporary "cofferdam," meant to hold back water while repairs were made, failed to function as intended, according to court papers. The county is contesting its design and construction.

Last month, the Manatee County Commission OK'd a settlement proposal that would have URS pay the county $2.4 million. Two years ago, the company rejected a similar settlement proposal of $2.7 million.

The URS counterproposal was $20,000, which Manatee officials rejected.

URS attorney Tim Woodward could not be reached for comment Monday.

However, the company denied in court papers any professional negligence occurred.

It alleged the county "failed to mitigate or exacerbated its damages by unnecessarily removing the entirety of the cofferdam components," the Herald reported in 2012.

Its attorney also wrote "some or all of the issues complained of by the County are the fault of non-parties," such as the contractor, the Herald reported.

A court date has been set for June 9, said attorney Robert Buesing, representing Manatee County.

Asked if troubles at the dam this month might be related to issues addressed in the lawsuit, Buesing said: "We don't have the final report from the county on what went wrong. We need answers at this time. Obviously, the engineers must finish whatever they'll do. I suspect it'll be totally independent."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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