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Early test results show dam solid

MEADVILLE — Okhissa Lake officials are optimistic that work onthe project will restart soon after soil tests were conductedMonday.

Two Natural Resource Conservation Service regional engineersfrom Ft. Worth, Texas, and a NRCS regional engineer from Nebraskaconverged on the Okhissa Lake project Monday to conduct the soiltesting. The testing was overseen by Ray Oliver, the project’schief inspector.

“They did these tests before the design and during theconstruction so far, but with the issues involving the contractorthey decided to do these cone tests again to reassure everyone thatthe earlier tests were correct,” said Carol Boll, Okhissa Lakeproject manager.

The project’s initial contractor, J.H. Parker ConstructionCompany of Natchez, defaulted in November 2002 and work was delayedas the Forest Service went through the necessary governmentpaperwork to rebid the contract, Boll said.

“We knew that the inspector behind the contractor had beentesting the work and had been redoing anything that needed done,”she said. “It’s been a well-watched dam, and Monday’s tests were toreinforce those earlier tests.”

The engineers tested soil compaction, soil type and moisturecontent Monday to further evaluate data collected during theconstruction of the dam, which was begun in September 2000.

Additional information will be provided from a cone penetrationtest being conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, VicksburgDistrict. Six holes were drilled to a maximum depth of 110 feet toensure that the foundation is strong enough to support the dam’sweight.

“Preliminary results gained from tests being conducted provideevidence that the strength of the foundation exceeds what wasexpected,” said Kim Harris, NRCS state conservation engineer. “Thisdata shows that the soil under the dam is solid.”

Firm results on Monday’s testing are expected later this monthafter review by a battery of experts, Boll said.

Previous tests made by the NRCS and Mississippi Department ofEnvironmental Quality to assess dam safety issues confirmed thatthe stability of the embankment slope is adequate, and plans forthe repair of the principle spillway are being finalized.

Boll said the new contractor, Pickett Industries of Shreveport,La., received the project in November, but weather has delayedconstruction.

“They’ve been waiting on some dry weather,” Boll said. “They’reanxious to get started.”

Gene Taylor, acting Homochitto District ranger, said theagencies are committed to completing the project and predicted thatcompletion could come as early as this year.

The 1,000-acre Okhissa Lake will provide water, land andnature-based recreation opportunities to the Franklin County area.The project is also expected to bring more economic diversity,development and employment opportunities to the region.