Mineral Ridge Dam under review

WEATHERSFIELD — The Mineral Ridge Dam at the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District is under an engineering review and could see millions of dollars in improvements in 2019.

Ramesh Kashinkunti, MVSD chief engineer, convened a four-member technical review panel comprised of independent engineering experts just before Christmas who reviewed preliminary findings regarding the dam — designed in 1928 and completed in 1931 — that were performed by Pittsburgh-based engineering firm Gannett Fleming. The team, which has expertise in dam design, rehabilitation, construction and hazard communication, assembled for three days and recommended further data collection and analysis.

“The dam is not in any imminent danger. However it does not meet contemporary design standards,” Kashinkunti said. “This is not uncommon with a dam that is nearly 90 years old.”

In light of the failure of the Oroville Dam in California, which failed in February 2017 and caused the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people living near it, Kashinkunti said all dams classified as Class 1 high-hazard dams, like the Mineral Ridge Dam, are being reviewed.

Review and potential design for a $20 million to $30 million overhaul of the dam to bring it in line with contemporary standards should be finished by the end of the year, Kashinkunti said, and construction could begin in 2019.

Donald Bruce, an engineer based in Pittsburgh who served on the technical review panel, has evaluated numerous dams both in the Unites States and overseas. One positive aspect of assessing the Mineral Ridge Dam is that Gannett Fleming has gathered a wealth of historical engineering data regarding the dam and its original construction.

Overall the dam is in pretty good shape, Bruce said, but because it’s a Class 1 dam there is a possibility of failure. The good thing is there is nothing in the dam that the review panel has not seen before.

“It’s essential to review the dam and I think the district should be applauded for doing what they’ve done,” Bruce said. “The good news is we are not going to be breaking new boundaries because we’ve seen these kind of issues before and the solutions for them are fairly well-known and easily implemented.”

It remains to be seen how dam improvements would be funded, although MVSD is currently engaged in a cost of services study to determine whether water rates, fees and charges are sufficient.