Dam construction project criticized as misspending by federal government
By Phil Cross
CANTON — We've all heard of preparing for a rainy day, but one federally-funded project is taking that concept to the extreme. It is a massive construction project happening at Canton Lake that has already cost you $100 million and will likely cost nearly that much to finish.Construction on the auxiliary spillway at Canton Lake started a decade ago. It is designed to divert water in the case of a flood, but these days the people who live and work in Canton say a flood is what is needed."Never seen it this far, this low, this long," remarked Alan Cox inside his Overlook Café next to the Canton Dam. The lake's low levels have meant lost business at the Overlook as well as many other businesses nearby."I grew up on it fishing on it [Canton Lake] and I wanted, I thought you could make a change in things and make a better place for people and it's kind of went to nothing now," Cox said.It's not just the drought that's caused problems. The construction project managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shut off through traffic for a time outside the Overlook. "That really did hurt," Cox told Fox 25 about the project that has also claimed his water wells and more than half of his parking space. His business sits on Corps-owned land, but he and others in Canton do not understand why a new spillway with its own dam-like structure is even needed. The Army Corps of Engineers says the spillway is designed to work in combination with the dam in the event of a "probable maximum flood." "We don't know when that event might occur, it could be next year or it could be decades before it would occur," said Wade Anderson of the Tulsa District of the Corps. Anderson says a drought is simply the opposite end of extreme weather and they want to make sure that in the case of a flood, water does not overtop the dam. In that instance, the dam could fail and create a flood with the potential to impact downtown Oklahoma City. The Corps estimates that "probable maximum flood" to be 28-inches of rain over a three-day period. "It's the largest flood that could reasonably be expected to happen in this area," said Corps hydrologist Matthew Piazza. However people in Canton say they have never heard of a rainfall that large over that long a period of time. In fact Oklahoma rainfall records show no record of such a rainfall. To put such an event in perspective we can look at 2013's rainfall records for Oklahoma City. The city, which typically receives much more rain that western Oklahoma, saw its wettest month of May in recorded history. The entire month saw 14.52-inches of rain. "At some point, enough is enough, stop the madness," said John Tidwell the Oklahoma State Director for the conservative taxpayer watchdog group Americans for Prosperity, "We've got to start reigning these things in because at the end of the day it's your tax dollars it's my tax dollars it's taking money out of my pocket." The Corps estimates the project will take another three or four years and cost $60-$80 million to finish. Tidwell believes it is an example of unnecessary spending by the federal government. "If we're not vigilant for it the waste will just continue to build and build and build and we can't continue to do that," Tidwell told Fox 25. The Corps says despite the drought the project will continue because it is more economical to finish it once they've begun construction. Engineers say the dam is in no danger of failing currently but they cannot predict the future or the weather; only prevent what they see as the potential for disaster. "I think one of the main takeaways from all of this is we are making Canton Lake and Canton Dam a safer dam," Piazza said.
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