Hard Work, Heart and Luck
Sometimes hard work pays off. Sometimes you get lucky. This story involves a little of each, and a lot of heart.
On Tuesday last week, Santee Cooper’s incident management team gathered for an afternoon update. Hurricane Florence was gone, but the flood behind her was headed toward the Waccamaw River – and the two ash ponds we are excavating in Conway. Dozens of employees were already on site, pumping water into the previously dewatered ponds to stabilize the dike walls as the river rose on the other side. This was important work, and it was the foundation of a similar pond-protection effort in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew also threatened the ponds.
We’d already ordered floating containment boom and, following a meeting with top engineers at other state agencies, silt fencing to put on top of the dike, more effort to keep ash from moving out of the ponds and into the river. We’d engineered multiple scenarios, and put in the extensive effort to keep all those portable pumps humming. We developed a water and sediment sampling plan with DHEC. Things were clicking into place.
A little background: Santee Cooper started excavating these ash ponds in 2014 and we’re about 87 percent done. Ash Pond 2 still has about 200,000 tons in it, and we were on track to finish the project within a few months.
The team got some grim news that Tuesday: all of that hard work, all of the hundreds of man-hours it involved, would help - but the Waccamaw River would still overtop Ash Pond 2. The only thing that would prevent it was a taller dike.
During Hurricane Matthew we bought an AquaDam, a water-inflatable tube of sorts, and installed it on the pond floor. Now we needed something on top of the dike, and it was simply too big.
One of our engineers knew a guy who sold AquaDam. He placed a call, we held a quick Q&A with the dealer, and we bought 6,000 feet that afternoon – enough to ring the entire dike. DBL2 loaded it up that night in Abbeville, Louisiana, and thanks to a police escort it arrived at the ash ponds at 8:10 p.m. last Wednesday.
Our boots on the ground – a combination of AquaDam contractors, Santee Cooper employees and a dozen South Carolina National Guardsmen helping out – worked through the night. Reinforcements finished the installation by Thursday night. Friday they walked the AquaDam, adding straps and reinforcing a few areas with sandbags.
We got lucky: the river’s rise slowed down, and we were able to not only install the AquaDam but walk it several times to add straps and other reinforcement. Without it, the Waccamaw River would have overtopped Pond 2. Overtopping doesn’t mean ash would be released, but it does complicate things.
We got lucky again: the river crested about 10 inches below the forecast. We still have a lot of work to do maintaining the dikes and dewatering (again) the ponds, but we’ve done this part before in 2016. Our plan – pumping the water, installing the boom, installing the fencing, testing water and continually inspecting the dikes – is a good one.
That’s where the hard work comes in. We will see this project through, then resume the ash excavation and return those ash ponds to wetlands. Our plan is good, and our people are better.