Black: Amendment prompted by Cookeville dam repair woes

Center Hill Dam.
Center Hill Dam.
Center Hill Dam.

COOKEVILLE – A bill amendment prompted by the city of Cookeville’s recent woes concerning repairs at Center Hill Dam has passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

Congressman Diane Black, who represents Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District, introduced and successfully passed an amendment to the House of Representatives’ Water Resources Development Act Tuesday night. The measure would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish and implement cost sharing agreements during dam safety repair projects, and clearly inform all stakeholders of their financial responsibilities up front.

The amendment follows a dam repair project on Center Hill Lake which left the city of Cookeville with an unexpected $1.5 million repair bill because the Corps did not communicate clearly and early on how the project would be designated. Congressman Black sent a letter and held multiple conference calls with Army Corps personnel seeking relief for Cookeville to no avail. While the amendment will not recoup the costs already incurred by the city, it aims to prevent such a scenario from being repeated in the future.

If the project is classified as safety assurance, the costs to utility providers, townships, and other stakeholders may be minimal, Black said. But if the project is classified as major rehabilitation, “you could have a scenario like what occurred in my district – where the town of Cookeville is now on the hook for a repair bill they hadn’t budgeted for – because they were never told.”

Had the project been classified as safety assurance, the city’s payment would have been $224,405, according to reports. Cookeville council members approved the $1.5 million payment in June.

“You know how this story ends – the city has to pass along those costs to someone. So my constituents in Cookeville could be paying higher water bills for the foreseeable future – all because the Army Corps wouldn’t be up front with them about what they owe,” Black said from the House floor in support of her amendment before its unanimous passage.

“I may not be able to get Cookeville – or other communities – their money back, but I can make sure this never happens again.”

The Center Hill Dam project dates back to 2006, when the structure was identified by the Corps as high risk, primarily due to series foundation seepage issues. The total project rehabilitation began in 2008 and is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

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