News: Public’s first look into Cheatham Power House since 911 gets ‘electric’
Story by Leon Roberts
CHARLOTTE, Tenn. – A small tour group visited the Cheatham Dam Power House here today, the first public visitors since the facility closed its doors following the attacks of 911.
An “electric” atmosphere surrounded the reopening of the power house as the group overlooked the hydropower units, interacted with the tour guide, and learned about plant operations and the project’s importance to local communities and the nation.
Park Ranger Brian Mangrum led the tour, talked about the project purposes, history and construction of the lock, dam and power house in the early 1950s, shared how the public can navigate through the lock, and highlighted the benefit of low-cost electricity generated by three hydropower units.
“We’re excited to be able to offer these opportunities again,” Mangrum said in welcoming the group to the power house. He first spoke in broad terms about the 10 dams managed as a system by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the Cumberland River and its tributaries. The district supports water management, flood damage reduction, navigation through 14 locks (including those managed on the Tennessee River), operation of nine power plants, management of recreation areas and campgrounds, and care for environment, he said.
Then he explained how power is harnessed from the currents at Cheatham Dam.
“We try to use all of the water that comes into the river system. Our main goal is to use the water as we release it to generate power,” Mangrum said. “If there is more water in the system than these three generators can pass, then we have to open the spillway gates in order to relieve water upstream to reduce flooding.”
Mangrum took many questions from the group, including just how much power does the plant actually generate?
“Each one of these generators can produce 12,000 kilowatts,” Mangrum said. “On average, in a year we generate 153,000 megawatt hours, which is enough to power about 15,000 residential homes a year.”
Joe “Boots” Streetman of Clarksville, Tenn., said he joined the tour with his wife and daughter because they had never been inside the Cheatham Power House.
“I’m enjoying it,” Streetman said overlooking the hydropower units. “The tour is really good. Brian did a fine job explaining and telling… it’s nice and it’s real interesting. And for those generators to hold up from 56 to now – it’s a good quality product.”
The Nashville District restricted access to its locks, dams, and power houses following the 911 attacks, and protected these important infrastructures from potential harm. Nearly a dozen years later, the Corps is balancing security requirements with the public’s right of entry.
Cheatham Lake Resource Manager Larry Nash said it is good to provide guided access to the power plant, to unlock the story of Cheatham Dam, so the public understands the operations here and how resources are being managed.
“We’ve had a lot of excitement from people who remembered when they could just walk up and watch a barge lock through or walk through the power plant,” Nash said. “We’re able to do things that we did in the past and enjoyed, and the Corps gets to step forward and say ‘we’re user friendly again.’”
Nash said there are many lessons to be learned about the purposes of the Corps of Engineers projects, and reopening these facilities while safeguarding them is the first step of the process.
“We have to do our due diligence to make sure we know who’s coming into the plant and what they’re looking at,” Nash said. “I think we are working through a process that will be successful in allowing the general public to come back. We have school groups that want to come. They’re hearing about it.”
The next public tours are June 23, July 21, Aug. 18, and Sept. 8, 2012. For tour information and to submit a tour request form, go to http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/op/che/rec/tours.html. The public is also encouraged to follow Cheatham Lake on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/cheathamlake to stay informed, receive updates, and interact with the Cheatham Lake community.