Lawmaker: Was Dam Flooding Man-Made Disaster? 5-17-2010 - WSMV News 4

Lawmaker: Was Dam Flooding Man-Made Disaster? 5-17-2010

Reported by Jeremy Finley
NASHVILLE, Tenn.U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper questioned Monday if the Army Corps of Engineers didn't release enough water behind the Old Hickory Dam knowing well that heavy rains were coming.

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The Channel 4 I-Team has been investigating how so much water was released through the dam without the public knowing.
Earlier I-Team investigations questioned if the Army Corps stuck too closely to its standard operating procedures when it chose not to alert the public that it was opening the dam. Now, the corps is being questioned for sticking too closely to another operating procedure and if that's partially to blame for the billions of gallons of water dumped during the worst of the flood.
Chevana Burns said she wonders why, when the floodwater from the rains hovered at 2 feet in her neighborhood, it suddenly started to rise to 9 feet several hours later, causing damage to her neighborhood. She said she believes it happened because the corps opened the Old Hickory Dam.
"I think they released too much water," said Burns.
It's why she joined neighborhood activists and her councilman, demanding answers from the corps.
"They didn't warn anybody what was going to happen," said activist Thom Hazelip.
"Was the corps at fault, or was anyone at fault? That's the big question," said Cooper. "In other words, was this partly a man-made disaster?"
While speaking to Nashville business leaders, Cooper showed a slide presentation asking if the water the corps released was preventable.
He questioned if the corps was focused not enough on a potential flood situation and too much on its other missions, such as keeping the water high enough water behind the dam for boaters on the river.
"How do you do that when boaters and others want the water high all the time? It's a balancing act, and we need to find out if we can do it better," said Cooper.
And the corps said the Old Hickory Dam's purpose is navigation, meaning for boater traffic.
"Old Hickory has a purpose of navigation," said a corps representative. "If you release too much water, then you defeat that purpose. I mean, it will not be able to sustain its purpose."
Cooper and others question if the corps clung too closely to its standard operating procedures like keeping river levels at a certain height and didn't think enough about what would happen if floods hit middle Tennessee.
"If they did everything right, folks here on Joseph wouldn't have been in the situation they're in," said Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin.
Cooper echoed the need for a congressional investigation into the corps' handling of this event.
The corps said Monday it hopes to find out during its analysis of how it handled the floods if releasing more water earlier would have prevented the downtown and neighborhood flooding.

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