Groundbreaking ceremony held for Pipestem Dam project
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Thursday, May 25, near Jamestown.
JAMESTOWN — The Pipestem Dam safety modification project will protect lives and property against the risk of flooding in Jamestown and other communities along the James River, according to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Hoeven said decades of erosion at Pipestem Reservoir created a risk of a breach during times of high-water flows.
“This project is a vital investment in the continued safety and well-being of homes and businesses throughout the area,” he said.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on Thursday, May 25, for the project.
Hoeven said the cost of the project is about $200 million. He said $170 million has already been secured for the project and an additional $25 million will come later.
The project is expected to be completed at the end of 2025. Once complete, the improvements will help prevent erosion in the event of a large storm. The eroded areas will be filled in and a terminal structure will be built over the drop-off at the end of the spillway.
Barnard Construction Co. Inc. out of Bozeman, Montana, was awarded the contract for the project.
The Pipestem Dam safety modification project consists of building a concrete terminal structure on the downstream end of Pipestem Creek and filling in the eroded areas with concrete. The downstream end of Pipestem Creek is where erosion could happen because of a drop-off.
The amount of concrete needed for the project is as much as Stutsman County would use in a typical year, Hoeven said.
A terminal structure is located at the downstream end of the outlet works — which controls the release of water from a reservoir — to dissipate the energy of rapidly flowing water and protect the riverbed from erosion, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website.
The emergency spillway is located west of the paved road across the top of Pipestem Dam. Immediately south of the spillway is a broad relatively level area that had previously been used as a shooting range. From that area, there is a steeper slope with nearly a 90-foot vertical drop to Pipestem Creek below. The area where the steeper drop is located is at risk of eroding away.
In 2009 when Hoeven was governor, the entire state was experiencing flooding, including Jamestown. He said because the Pipestem Dam is not concrete, there was a risk of it getting washed out.
“If it washed out … that flow could have exceeded 20,000 cubic feet per second in Jamestown and that would have created more than $70 million in Jamestown and that’s even with all of the mitigation efforts we were taking that time in Jamestown,” he said. “The risk to lives and to property in the community was very significant if that spillway gave way.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers looked at Pipestem Reservoir after Cottonwood Creek Dam south of LaMoure was close to being completely lost because of the erosion, said Col. Mark Himes, Omaha District commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said Pipestem Dam is a similar structure to Cottonwood Creek Dam and that highlighted the potential risk to Pipestem.
The project is expected to be completed within the budget and on time, said Ely Johnson, project manager for Barnard Construction Co. Inc. He said a lot of hard work has gone into getting the project where it’s at.
Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich said he has worked in insurance claims for a number of years and sees unintended events as they unfold. He said insurance companies need a good underwriting department to identify unacceptable risks and assist with mitigation.
“This serves to protect not only the individual policyholders but also all of the companies’ insurance who share in that risk from a financial standpoint,” he said. “What we have here today is an example of what one might liken to proper underwriting having identified an unacceptable risk with the Pipestem Dam and the possibility under exacting circumstances where a failure could take place and put lives and property at risk.”
He said the Corps of Engineers “wisely determined” that the risk of erosion on the downstream end of Pipestem Creek was too great and significant cost of mitigation was warranted.
“This project, when completed, will bring additional safety and peace of mind to the people of Jamestown and those living downstream,” he said. “ … I am not alone in hoping that we never see this enhanced spillway put to use. However, if that does happen, the wisdom of this decision will be remembered.”