Bigger pumps set up to drain dam

March 09, 2007

[Associated Press] — Oakland --Officials racing against a thaw to protect a threatened earthen dam and homes in Western Maryland ordered bigger pumps yesterday and called on the state's Air National Guard to help install them.

A CH-47 Chinook helicopter was deployed to the mountain town of Oakland, the Garrett County seat, to hoist two 8,900-pound pumps into place beside the Little Youghiogheny River Site 1 reservoir, according to town officials and Katie Leahan, spokeswoman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

The town ordered the pumps from a company in Pittsburgh after smaller pumps sent Tuesday from Baltimore County's public works agency proved insufficient for the task.

Oakland City Councilman Jay Moyer said workers hoped to quickly start draining some of the 7.5 million gallons of water from the pond. Then workers could start removing a large, stubborn mass of sticks and mud created by beavers that has clogged a pipe.

But a few technical problems, along with darkness and plunging temperatures, curtailed the effort last night, said Mayor Asa McCain, who was hopeful the pumps would be in operation by today.

Officials want to correct the problem before warmer weather and possibly rain arrive by tomorrow and melt some snow in surrounding hills. The area's temperatures are expected to reach the low 40s today and climb into the 50s daily for the next week.

"With the melting that's expected to occur, the state feels that that's going to force water to go around the emergency spillway and they don't like that," Moyer said. The spillway wasn't designed for prolonged use, he said, and state inspectors fear that a steady flow will erode the earthen structure and cause a dam failure.

That would prompt evacuation of about 25 downhill homes and likely flood the basements of a number of businesses along nearby U.S. 219, the mayor said.

Moyer said the town drained the reservoir in January to remove the beaver blockage but that a cold snap prevented completion of the work. A rain storm poured silt-laden runoff into the reservoir, burying a valve that helps control the outflow. With the entire system blocked, the reservoir filled to the brim and began spilling over the emergency outlet.

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