Atlas Shrugged: Tempe Town Lake dam bursts

In another story that could have come straight out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

Tempe Town Lake overnight became a bog after one of the four inflatable bladders at the west end of the lake exploded around 9:44 p.m., sending a wall of water into the Salt River bed.

Tempe spokeswoman Kris Baxter estimated that at least three-quarters of the about 1 billion gallons of water had drained overnight. Officials say the dam breach left some areas of the lake with three feet of water or less; the average lake depth is about 16 feet.

So far, the story just sounds like a normal accident. But there is more to the story:

In April 2009, Tempe officials said they intended to ignore a safety recommendation from the makers of Town Lake’s rubber dams because sufficient safeguards already were in place to prevent the dams from deflating.

In 2009, the dams’ manufacturer, Bridgestone Industrial Products, had urged Tempe to evaluate whether the safety measures at the lake were sufficient “to prevent injury and reduce the risk of loss of life” if the dams were to rapidly deflate. Bridgestone manufactured the eight inflatable dams that contained the lake.

The eastern dams upstream are submerged and have held up. But a plan to keep the western dams wet failed, exposing the rubber to scorching sun that has damaged the material.

Tempe and Bridgestone officials have argued over whose fault that is. In March 2009, the City Council approved an agreement for Bridgestone to replace the four damaged dams at the lake’s western end.

But the question of people’s safety on the lake if the dams were to deflate remained a sticking point. Bridgestone recommended that the city look at increasing the buffer zone between safety buoys and the western dams, adding warning signage and enhancing the alarm system to better warn lake users if the dams rapidly deflate.

The cost to temporarily replace the dams was estimated at $2.5 million earlier this year. Tempe at that time budgeted an additional $250,000 to fund the project’s contingency costs. Bridgestone was expected to reimburse Tempe up to $3 million of the costs to replace the dam.

It is clear that Tempe knew about this problem for well over a year now and did nothing about it except complain and blame the manufacturer. Tempe should have taken Bridgestone’s advice on how to prevent this problem or replaced the dams entirely. Bridgestone may not be blameless here, but they did warn Tempe and Tempe chose to do nothing, endangering the river and people.

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One response to “Atlas Shrugged: Tempe Town Lake dam bursts

  1. Is there a rope and buoy system on the new dam? We have a hydro operator here who wants to install an inflatable dam downriver 100′ from a 150 year old boat club.

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