The Williamson City Council took another step during its meeting last week toward correcting a water hazard that exists along the Tug Fork River.

John Burchett, president of the Williamson Planning and Zoning Board, presented the council with preliminary plans to minimize the dangerous hydraulic conditions created by the low-water dam that ensures water levels in the Tug Fork remain high enough to supply the city’s water plant. Along with the study concept, he requested the council to allow the submission of a grant application, which, if approved, would fund the entire project.

Plans are underway to have the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River designated as a water trail from its headwaters in Welch to it confluence with the Levisa Fork near Fort Gay. According to Councilman Randall Price, the dam at the Williamson Water Plant is the only obstacle in that path. Over the past few years, river floats and races have become very popular in Mingo County.

“Things are coming together,” Burchett said in regards to the dam project for which an environment study and preliminary design phase began last year. “The Big Sandy Crayfish study was completed and they found no crayfish we had to worry about. We do have a preliminary design that has been prepared and we do have the availability to apply for a large pool of grant money that has become available to the state of West Virginian through the Office of Surface Mining and Abandoned Mine Lands.”

He said the state will receive $25 million for economic development initiatives. Burchett said the grant the board has prepared asks for the full funding for the construction of the project, which comes in at $687,945. If approved, the grant will not require any local matching funds.

“This is a worst-case number and that is what we asked for,” Burchett said. “That is assuming we have to go out and buy all of the rock for this project. We hope and expect there will be a highway project or a surface mine operating nearby were we can pull this rock from. That number comes way down if we don’t have to buy the rock.”

The design by Summit Engineering calls for the project to be 200 feet long running from the dam towards the Second Street Bridge.

“It is quite a bit larger in scale than what we had originally anticipated,” Burchett said. “It is on a 5 percent grade, that’s why it runs so long. The reason they had to do that was to bring the velocity of the water to an interesting section of ripples instead of something that is going to be really challenging for people.”

The structure will be a series of rock ribs coming off a 25-feet-wide water flume created in the center of the river. This flume will allow for recreational watercraft such as kayaks, canoes, johnboats and floats to pass through Williamson unhindered.

“Between each of these ribs will be a fishing opportunity and we hope to build a really nice fishery into this because we are going to change the good fishery that is there now and we want to leave something better,” he said.

The base of the flume will be a slight grade and the rock ribs will be placed 25 feet apart. They will step down along the flume to create gentler currents eliminating the current dangers imposed by the dam.

“It will be really attractive,” Mayor Charlie Hatfield said. “As it comes down the slope, the water will be terraced and will look like it is coming down steps. It will be attractive on its own as well as functional.”

The project is based on the Frankenmuth (Michigan) Dam Fish Passage project which was designed to slow the current of the Cass River in order to allow walleye and other species of non-jumping fish to swim upstream passing over a low water dam. In addition to slowing the river, the passage has created fishing points and has also created natural breeding areas.

While the Tug Fork project is still in the preliminary stages and has not passed regulatory approval, the Fish Passage was designed to comply with standards set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We may have to do some tweaking based on requirements or recommendations from the Corps or other agencies such as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection or the Department of Natural Resources,” Burchett said.

He was set to meet with biologists from the state DNR on Wednesday afternoon, however, as of presstime results of that meeting were not available.

Depending on the closing of the grant period, if the funding is approved and finding a low water flow period through the river, Burchett said it may be as long as next summer before actual construction could commence.

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