Franklin water district lawyers up for dam dispute

Oct 18, 2013

The Mount Vernon-based Franklin County Water District is taking legal action in its efforts to fix erosion problems at the dam at Lake Cypress Springs. The district has retained the services of Dallas-based Strasburg and Price to help to resolve issues with the engineering firm hired to repair the dam.

The issue concerns a rehabilitation project on the downstream slope of the dam that was completed in 2010. The project followed a 2005 report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that mandated the district to repair the dam.

The Franklin County Water District contracted Fort Worth-based Freese and Nichols, Inc., to design a plan to address and prevent a recurrence of the erosion problems identified by the TCEQ. Freese and Nichols prepared  a plan and oversaw the competitive bidding process for completion of the rehabilitation project. The project was completed in April 2010.

An October 2011 TCEQ report identified continued erosion on the downstream slope of the dam. The TCEQ said that the wrong type of soil had been used at the site. The report said that “dispersive” soils, which tend to break up upon contact with water, were used on the dam’s embankment.

Following an inquiry from the water district, Freese and Nichols confirmed in a February 2013 report that dispersive soils had been used at the site.

According to a statement on Oct. 16 issued by Frankin County Water District general manager David Weidman, investigations by an independent geotechnical engineer confirmed that the use of improper fill material was a substantial factor causing post-construction soil erosion.

The use of dispersive clay soils in hydraulic structures, embankment dams, or other structures can cause serious engineering problems. The specifications for the project drafted by Freese and Nichols specifically called for the use of non-dispersive soils.

The Franklin County Water District board voted on Oct. 15 to demand that Freese and Nichols promptly address these issues. The board cited the responsibility of Freese and Nichols to oversee the implementation of the design during construction, including necessary testing of the fill material.

“The Franklin County Water District expended substantial sums to rehabilitate the Dam to ensure that it was not only structurally sound, but also to minimize the expense of continued maintenance caused by erosion,” Weidman said in a statement. “There is not a risk of an immediate dam failure, but the issues must be addressed to ensure long term stability of the Dam and to minimize the ongoing maintenance requirements.”

“Franklin County Water District intends to take all actions necessary, including legal action if required, to ensure Franklin County Water District receives the end product for which it contracted,” Weidman said.  “Due to the ongoing nature of this situation and on the advice of the district's attorneys no additional comment or statements will be issued at this time.”