Part of Parkersburg’s floodwall gate set up
Exercise to address one of 2 unmet requirements for city
PARKERSBURG — The city’s floodwall was built in 1950, but the gate across Murdoch Avenue was partially assembled for the first time on Wednesday.
“This is history,” Parkersburg City Engineer Justin Smith said as nine buildings and grounds and floodwall workers placed stop logs in a bay between the floodwall’s edge and a metal post. “This is the first time this has been done.”
The fact that the full gate hasn’t been erected is one of two factors that have left the floodwall with an “unacceptable” rating from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That means the structure would not be eligible for federal rehabilitation funds should it suffer “extraordinary” damage during a flood event, despite the fact that the system appears to be in good working order, said Dave Humphreys, levee safety program manager for the Corps’ Huntington District.
“The federal government constructed the floodwall (and) turned it over to the City of Parkersburg,” Humphreys said Wednesday as municipal workers took down the gate section. “We just want to make sure that the investment provides the maximum benefit.”
One requirement the city has not met is closing the gate, which would block Murdoch Avenue — one of the busiest thoroughfares in the region and the state — around the 3400 block for the better part of two days. That’s why it has not been done in the past, but Humphreys said Wednesday’s exercise, along with an inventory of components and a tabletop exercise in the near future, will satisfy the requirement.
“We understand it’s kind of a hardship to close this large of a roadway,” said Andy Cremeans, levee safety mechanical engineer for the Huntington District.
City workers, including police, began blocking off traffic and setting up for the work at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, said Joe Nelson, parks and recreation and floodwall supervisor. Two lanes of southbound Murdoch Avenue were closed as the post and stop logs were removed from the storage area attached to the floodwall.
Workers placed the post in an anchor in the street, usually covered by a metal door. Then they brought out seven-and-a-half-foot, 6-by-8-inch stop logs, coated with creosote, to stack in the bay formed between the post and the wall.
In an actual flood, Smith said, there would be two nine-man crews stacking stop logs about 14 feet high in 11 bays across the road. The “stop logs” for the second half are aluminum, added when the road was widened in 1971, Humphreys said.
In addition to the later tabletop exercise, during which the city would communicate with Camden Clark Medical Center and other impacted stakeholders, the Corps wants the city to inspect the other anchors, to make sure they are operational. Smith said that likely would be done late on a Saturday night into a Sunday morning to minimize the impact on traffic.
The other sticking point in the system’s “unacceptable” rating is a requirement that pipes traveling under the floodwall be inspected to make sure they are not caved in and undermining the structure’s foundation. When the Belleville Locks and Dam were completed in 1965, the Ohio River rose by 10 feet, putting the pipes underwater.
“If they were dry, it wouldn’t be as expensive” to inspect them, Humphreys said.
Previous estimates put the cost of an inspection using divers at around $300,000, Smith said, something the city found to be cost-prohibitive.
Humphreys asked if the city had access to cameras that could be put through the pipes. Smith said the Parkersburg Utility Board has that type of equipment but they cannot work in the submerged conditions of the pipes. If the water could be removed from the pipes somehow, they could be inspected, he said.
Humphreys said they would discuss that more today, during the floodwall inspection.
“This system is not unacceptable due to a broad range of issues,” he said. “It’s unacceptable because we have one criteria they are unable to meet.
“This city has a knowledgeable staff,” Humphreys said. “It’s a budgetary decision. It doesn’t mean the floodwall’s any less ready to perform.”
Cremeans called Parkersburg’s floodwall “one of the best-managed projects we have.”