Gaylord's CEO said Opryland's levee "stood up" to the May flood, but in the end, the water still came in. He said its levee may have given the hotel and a lot of other property owners a false sense of security.
"Water didn't come through the levee. The levee didn't fail," said CEO Colin Reed. "The levee held perfectly appropriately. It came over the top.
The levee was built along with the amusement park in 1972. The area was a floodplain, so the idea was to create a barrier from the river 2 feet higher than any worst-case scenario, at least at that time.
But three years later, a big flood spilled 2 feet over the top, so Opryland raised the levee another 4 feet and added two extra pumping stations to redirect runoff that might pool from heavy rain.
In 2000, Opry Mills Mall was in the picture, and there was another adjustment, with bigger pumps.
But by 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had new rules: Gaylord needed its levee accredited to retain adequate insurance, and what had been a private project now required a form of city guarantee. Gaylord paid for a long concrete topper called a freeboard to guard against fast current.
"As a company, we felt we were adequately protected," said Reed. "If we didn't, we would have done something far more material."
It's been three years since FEMA signed off on it all, but with a pretty explicit disclaimer, warning that failure of the structure was possible and that there was a chance that large floods would be greater than the level of protection.
It also urged evacuation plans and the purchase of flood insurance.
Reed said in hindsight, they had a false sense of security.
"We have to raise this levee. We cannot and we will not put this great asset at risk again, and we're going to have to do that. We will do that."
Reed said there's no question the Opryland levee needs to go up about 8 feet this time, but that isn't all. He's no longer talking about it as a private asset or Opryland's problem. He has hinted at government help and is urging a holistic approach that some have speculated could mean longer levees down the Cumberland River, even adjustments to Old Hickory Dam.
"It's not just a simple as fixing our levee here. We can do it. It's a $15 million ticket, and frankly, we're about to spend $280 million refurbishing this hotel," Reed said. "What the mayor and I talked about is there must be a broader plan here for the city of Nashville. There has to be."