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Duke says flood gate at dam failed

By Bruce Henderson
bhenderson@charlotteobserver.com

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wants Duke Energy to explain why a flood gate at its Oxford Dam on Lake Hickory failed to fully open during flooding early this month.

As up to 11 inches of rain sent water surging down the Catawba River on May 5, Duke opened a flood gate in the dam three feet to release rising water downstream.

The next morning, as lake levels continued to rise, Duke tried to open the gate another three feet but couldn’t. A hoist on the dam that lifts gates failed because of an electrical problem, spokeswoman Lisa Hoffmann said. Hoists are tested every two weeks, she said.

Repair crews fixed the problem in about three hours, she said, allowing the gate to be opened. Until then, excess water poured over the dam’s emergency spillway.

In the interim, Duke alerted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the problem. The utility considered declaring a “Condition B,” a situation outside normal operating conditions, but did not.

Such a declaration formally notifies emergency responders to be on heightened alert, Hoffmann said.

“The safety of the dam was never in question,” she said. Oxford Dam is built to withstand water levels 22 feet above the lake’s full pond, she said, but this month rose 1.7 feet above full pond.

Flooding damaged about 90 homes in Catawba and Mecklenburg counties, including those on Lookout Shoals Lake downstream of Oxford Dam. The inability to lift the dam’s flood gate did not worsen downstream flooding, Duke says.

Duke agreed to file reports with FERC on both the flooding and the gate problem that will be filed by mid-June, Hoffmann said.

Wayne King, regional engineer in FERC’s dam-safety division, didn’t return the Observer’s calls.

Henderson: 704-358-5051 Twitter: @bhender
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