E-mails Reveal Army Corps 'Chaos' During Flood - WSMV Channel 4

E-mails Reveal Army Corps 'Chaos' During Flood

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

E-mails obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team show a senior Army Corps official had serious questions about the amount of water released from the Old Hickory Dam on May 2.

 Related:  Morning Report6 p.m. Report 

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the I-Team obtained hundreds of e-mails sent during the floods from employees of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The I-Team was first to report on the problems involved with the release of water at the Old Hickory Dam.

In a Web conference with analysts and investors on Tuesday, Gaylord CEO Colin Reed said he planned to ask the Army Corps some tough questions during a private meeting Wednesday at Gaylord's headquarters.

Those questions included findings from a series of Channel 4 I-Team investigations.

Channel 4 found the National Weather Service's flood predictions May 2 may have been flawed because it used old, and sometimes incorrect, data given to them from the Corps. Those details included about how much water was being released through the Old Hickory Dam into the Cumberland River.

Opryland is downstream from the dam, and Reed said they counted on the Weather Service's forecasts to determine how quickly the water would rise.

"It was because of the vast volume of water being released from the Old Hickory Dam created a flood stage much, much higher than the National Weather Service had thought earlier in the day," said Reed.

Gaylord representatives weren't the only people questioning the Corps in early May.

E-mails obtained by the I-Team include ones sent by John Hunter, a senior hydraulic engineer with the Corps in Washington, D.C. He wrote at 9:45 p.m. May 2 that he felt something "weird seemed to happen" at the Old Hickory Dam as he observed how much water was being released.

"This is unheard of ... to drop the lake .5 feet during a flood of record and force such an increase in flow on Nashville, which is just downstream is very strange. Worth checking on to find out what the heck is going on!!!," wrote Hunter.

On May 3, Barney Davis with the Corps in Nashville responded that Hunter's e-mail was "an example of headquarters creating or adding to the already sizable amount of chaos we are managing ... We have a good handle on our situation, both water management and dam and levee safety."

A Corps spokesman again reiterated that they had no choice but to release water through the dam during the floods, and they are currently examining how they shared information during the floods.

Gaylord officials asked about the dam releases that swelled the Cumberland River, as well as who will pay to increase the size of the levee that protects the Opryland property.

Reed claims that if hotel officials had been given reliable information before the flooding, more damage could have been prevented.

The company has said before that it may consider filing a suit against the Corps to recoup money for damages.

The Army Corps of Engineers called the meeting with Gaylord Opryland "productive," but neither side would discuss what happened.

A Corps spokesman said they provided adequate information during the floods for the National Weather Service to make predictions and again reiterated that they had no choice but to release water through the dam during the floods to keep it from collapsing.

Gaylord Asks For Help With Flood Repair

Gaylord officials have also asked the city of Nashville to help pay for flood repairs at its $1 billion hotel.

The Tennessean reported Gaylord asked Mayor Karl Dean to support its request to redirect a 1 percent portion of the city's hotel tax that was being held in reserve for a proposed expansion of the hotel.

The expansion has been shelved and Gaylord wants to use the money for repairs that could cost as much as $179 million.

"What's happened has been catastrophic," Gaylord CEO and Chairman Colin Reed said. "Our business means so much to (Nashville)."

Some 800,000 square feet of Opryland's 4 million square feet of space was damaged in the flood, including 117 guest rooms, all the exhibit halls, the garden atriums, Cascades Lobby and the hotel's complex mechanical, electrical and power systems.

Opryland's 2,881 hotel rooms represent 10 percent of all rooms in Nashville, and the resort known for its garden-filled atriums generates nearly 25 percent of the city's total hotel tax revenue. The overall hotel/motel tax is a 6 percent levy on room rentals.

Dean spokeswoman Janel Lacy said the mayor is reviewing Gaylord's request, which would need Metro Council approval.

"The Grand Ole Opry is synonymous with Nashville's identity as Music City," Dean said in a statement. "If there is a way for the city to help this iconic institution reopen its doors, I think it's certainly something we should consider."

Also, Reed said he will meet with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials Wednesday to discuss whether inaccurate information about flood levels led to some of the damage at the hotel and Grand Old Opry. They will also discuss who should pay to raise the height of the levees that are supposed to protect the property.

The levee stretching along the Gaylord complex and the nearby Opry Mills shopping center is a mostly earthen rise covered with grass and topped with perhaps a 2-foot concrete wall in spots.

The short flood wall was added atop the levee as a kind of splash guard in case waters reached the 100-year-flood level and eventually splattered onto the property.

Gaylord has said its levees were "accredited" by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, yet the embankments failed to protect the hotel and resort's property as floodwaters rose on May 2, finally topping the levee system and the splash guard.

"The key is to make sure the levees will go up," Reed said. "They will go up, but who will pay for them? That is one of the debates we will have ... with the Army Corps of Engineers."

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