Change of plans: whitewater construction crew plans to blow up City Mills Dam next week

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 8, 2013 

Almost a year after blowing two huge holes in the Eagle & Phenix Dam, Chattahoochee River whitewater construction crews have determined explosives will be needed to take out the City Mills Dam.

In a reversal of plans, the City Mills structure will likely be blown up early next week, according to Uptown Columbus Inc. President Richard Bishop. The day and time will not be finalized until Monday, Bishop said.

Officials had been planning to remove it mechanically, but changed course because the structure proved to be more sturdy than first thought. “We weren’t making that much progress, so we decided to use explosives,” Bishop said.

The dam, near 18th Street just north of the TSYS campus, was built in 1907 to power the City Mills grist mill. The concrete and stone structure replaced a wooden dam that was originally constructed in 1828.

Paul Meadows, the project executive with Batson-Cook Construction of West Point, Ga., said they have been surprised by the strength of the City Mills Dam. Crews have been using a trackhoe equipped with a jackhammer to chip away at the dam. The City Mills Dam was built 25 years after the one at Eagle & Phenix, but it hasn’t gone away easily.

“We thought this was built like Eagle & Phenix Dam and we could take it down mechanically,” Meadows said. “It is a lot more substantial then we thought.”

Plans call for a 100-foot section of the dam to be blown away, Bishop said. Just as they did with the Eagle & Phenix Dam downstream, abutments will be left on both riverbanks to preserve a portion of the river’s history.

Crews have been working this week drilling holes in the dam to place the explosives. That work will continue through the weekend. “We will know a lot more about what is happening come Monday,” Meadows said.

Uptown Inc., and Batson-Cook have begun to put a safety plan in place. That includes notifying all of the businesses in the blast zone.

“This is comparable to what we did at Eagle & Phenix,” Meadows said. “But we don’t have as many businesses. We do have a lot of residential on the Phenix City side. That is the area we will be concentrating on.”

The TSYS campus is outside the blast zone, but the company will be notified of the explosion plans. There will be a public viewing area on the 14th Street pedestrian bridge, which is about four blocks south of the dam. That bridge is only accessible from the Alabama side.

Last March, crews blew out 125 feet of the Eagle & Phenix Dam with two separate blasts four days apart. The first blast March 21, 2012, blew a 50-foot gap in the dam, then a 75-foot chunk was blown out with the follow up blast March 25.

“This should be comparable to the Eagle & Phenix explosions,” Bishop said.

The 2.5-mile Chattahoochee whitewater rafting course is scheduled to open May 25. It should take workers about three weeks to clear the debris from the blast, Meadows said.

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