Tempe Town Lake Update

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It’s been a year since Tempe Town Lake’s dam burst. Now, the dams have been replaced and a new pedestrian bridge is being installed. Get an update from Tempe City Manager Charlie Meyer.

Ted Simons: It's been a little over a year since Tempe Town Lake made headlines for all the wrong reasons. One of four rubber bladders that made up the lake's west end dam burst, as seen in this grainy security video. The result -- a billion gallons of water rushed down the Salt River, and Tempe began the process of replacing the dam. Here now with an update on that replacement process is Tempe City Manager Charlie Meyer. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Charlie Meyer: It's a pleasure to be here. A pleasure to have the dam in place when we're talking.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And this is a temporary dam that's up and operational now. How long is that thing supposed -- contractually, realistically, how long does it stay there?

Charlie Meyer: Well, it's a contractual temporary dam. Our contract with Bridgestone, where they agree to replace the old dam, was that we would limit it to five years. We've agreed to take it out by the end of 2015. And that's our obligation in this agreement for Bridgestone to replace the old dam at no cost to the city.

Ted Simons: So that wasn't a safety concern, where at five years they say, you're getting chancy again, this thing would probably be OK for another 10, 15 --

Charlie Meyer: Yeah. The five years has nothing to do with how long the dam would last. It has to do with how long the agreement went with Bridgestone, and they wanted the new dam removed within five years.

Ted Simons: The permanent replacement dam, what kind of money are we talking about here? How much is this going to cost the city?

Charlie Meyer: Well, we're in some very preliminary design stages, so we're still trying to figure that out. We've set aside a little more than $40 billion in our capital budget for this purpose. And we're hoping that we wouldn't need to spend all of that, and it depends on the design alternatives that we select ultimately.

Ted Simons: That is dedicated funding.

Charlie Meyer: We have an item in our capital program for this, yes.

Ted Simons: You mentioned technology and different options to look at. One of those options is another rubber dam. Correct?

Charlie Meyer: We would absolutely look at another rubber dam as an alternative. Actually, with these dams that are in place now, we have been able to add shading and a water system to keep the dam bladders cooled, and we think that would help us know a little better how these kind of rubber dams would work if they were not exposed to the sun as the original ones were.

Ted Simons: Would a new version of a rubber dam be different or improved and what was in place before, or do rubber dams pretty much stay the way they are?

Charlie Meyer: Well, they more stay the way they are. I don't know of any significantly changed technology that would suggest that it would be a whole lot different. But being able to keep this one cooled should give us some indications of whether or not that is a more viable option for us for the long term.

Ted Simons: Keeping this one cooled by way of this pedestrian bridge, I think we have video of the bridge, this thing now will provide the shade and the sprinklers, would the sprinklers come from the bridge from below the bridge?

Charlie Meyer: Yeah. And as you point out, it's a pedestrian bridge. That's why we're building it. Not as a very expensive shade for the dam. But, yeah, it will shade it, and then the sprinkler system is actually attached underneath the bridge. And I think that was one of the reasons why the sprinkler system wasn't put in for the old dams, because they couldn't figure out any way to make it work. With the dam there we've got a great stable platform to do those things.

Ted Simons: Give us an update on the pedestrian -- it looks like it's almost done. What kind of time frame?

Charlie Meyer: The time frame on the bridge is very close. It will be done in September, and all of the sections are now in place, the concrete pad has been poured, and it's really what I would call it fit and finish work now to get the dam replaced, or I'm sorry, to get the bridge open by September.

Ted Simons: We've got -- we talked about the rubber dam, and I don't know what upfront costs would be or maintenance costs would be for that, but if the life span again were 10-15 years, if the city felt like in 15 years we're going to have to replace this, is that an option in the same way that you replace other city infrastructure, you just know in 15 years we got to do this again.

Charlie Meyer: I think that you're making a good point in terms of it being an option. The first priority is it has to be safe. And we learned the hard way that the old dams were safe, that they were able to withstand the calamity of the loss of the dam and still nothing was damaged from it. I think beyond that, it has to be a cost effective and a maintainable dam that goes into place, and that's where we're spending our time. So a rubber dam that we know can be replaced over time, you might put it on a different cycle and just a planned replacement, which we hadn't done at least on quite as tight a time frame. So we're look at it being cost effective over time. There are other options that are more expensive up front, and what we really want to do is analyze whether they will be more cost effective over the long term.

Ted Simons: And those would be what, the hinged metal dam and the adjustable gate dams, these things where when the water needs to get through you just do something hydraulically and there it goes?

Charlie Meyer: Yeah. There's a hydraulic system, and essentially what it does, it lays a gate down and lets the water pass through, and when they fear -- the fear of flooding is passed, it raises back up and goes into place. Those are more expensive initially, whether or not they're less expensive over the life of silt what we need to evaluate.

Ted Simons: Including things like maintenance and testing.

Charlie Meyer: Exactly.

Ted Simons: OK. Give me a time frame, another timetable here, when will the decision be made as to what kind of technology, what kind of dam will be built?

Charlie Meyer: Well, the preliminary design concepts will be out now, so I would say we will make that decision within the next year. We're allowing ourselves going back to the other end of the time frame, we've got until December of 2015, so we're allowing ourselves about 2½ years for construction, and about a year for final design. So within the next six months we really want to be in a position to make a decision about the design.

Ted Simons: So it sounds like construction may not begin until 2013, somewhere along those lines?

Charlie Meyer: That's right. We wouldn't plan on starting construction until around 2013.

Ted Simons: But contractual agreement, it's got to be done by the end of 2015?

Charlie Meyer: By the end of 2015, the old dams have to be taken out of commission.

Ted Simons: Every time we talk about this dam we get people, it shouldn't have been built, it's a boondoggle, it's wrong to have this here, it should a riparian area, it should be some sort of a parkland setting, something along these lines. Is the city doing the right thing with this lake? Did they do the right thing in building the lake, are we doing the right thing in maintaining it?

Charlie Meyer: Well, I have the benefit of being able to speak without having been part of the initial decision, so in second guessing, I think absolutely they did the right thing. We have some fantastic riparian areas, both upstream and downstream of Tempe Town Lake, we've got the open water body, it's relatively efficient in terms of its use of water. The water passes down the river system anyway. And it's a great, great urban amenity. Tempe and its proximity to downtown Phoenix, it's an urban environment, and there's lots of very wonderful natural places around it. The opportunity for development in an urban setting is in large part possible because of the presence of that lake. So I think environmentally it's sound, certainly those who like to fish have enjoyed it. I myself have the benefit of, I row now in the mornings, and whoever thought I could come to Arizona and be rowing on a lake?

Ted Simons: Good stuff. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Charlie Meyer: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

Charlie Meyer: Tempe City Manager;

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