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No Fear, Says Flood Man

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How do we know the floodwall will work in a big flood? John Hay, floodwall supervisor with the city department of public works, is glad you asked.

"It's very difficult for the public to visually discern if the floodwall is working or not when we have minor flooding," Hay says. But he wants to reassure Richmonders they don't have to worry.

It's true, he says, that three years ago crews had to bring in a backhoe to push closed the floodgates on Mayo Bridge. But that was a unique situation, he says, because "we had very short notice to exercise those gates."

Because the bridge carries heavy traffic, Hay's crews rarely have the opportunity to practice there. That day, he says, they learned a few hours ahead of time that CSX was closing the bridge to work on the railroad crossing. They got to work immediately.

Crews removed steel plates over the rails, cleaned the trenches below, and closed and stabilized the gate on the south side of the river. Then, they reversed the procedure and repeated it on the north side gate. "All that was done in record time," he says.

The backhoe was needed for an extra push because they had no time to clean off the rails, he says. The vacuum crew that usually cleans up clogging debris never showed up because their truck had broken down.

But "in a flood situation, this would never occur," Hay says. The city typically gets two to three days notice of a potential flood gathering upstream.

Furthermore, Hay says, gates routinely are tested and maintained every six months. A computer program called Qqest manages the maintenance schedule, and the Army Corps of Engineers inspects the wall yearly.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the completion of the $135 million floodwall. It includes concrete walls with 15 gates on the north side of the river and a combination of earthen and concrete levees with six gates on the south side. —

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