Tunnel de-watering project at Hawks Nest on track to finish in November

FAYETTE COUNTY, WV (WOAY) – The flood gates are open at the Hawks Nest Dam, the New River Dries are flowing and the Hawks Nest Lake is historically low, and Brookfield Renewable expects it to be like this until November 11. 

These are all results of a project that has gained a lot of local interest as Brookfield Renewable, a company based in New York City with a powerhouse in Gauley Bridge, has drained the Hawks Nest Lake 25 feet. They did this, so that they can inspect the Hawks Nest Tunnel for the first time since its construction in 1933.

Andy Davis is the senior director of communications and says Brookfield took over the dam, the tunnel and the hydropower plant in 2006 and says a closer look at the tunnel is a must for both public and workplace safety.

“We want to make sure that we got a good look at this facility underground or in the tunnel itself, so we’re doing that through remote operated vehicles. It’s very dark. Obviously there’s a history here. There’s nothing we’ve noticed that would be dangerous to anyone,” Davis said. “We want it to get a full inspection, and we wanted to use the technology that’s available to us today that wouldn’t have been available in the 1930s.”

As a result of the construction in the 1930s, according to the National Park Service, at least 764 black workers died from silicosis who were sent in without the proper gear. 

That is why today they are using technology only to inspect the tunnel and also why no one can see inside without that technology. 

However, according to Brookfield, so far, it appears the tunnel is in pristine, original condition.

“Actually it’s really close to how it looked when the thing was constructed, so the beauty of this is that if it was built right and in all appearances the way it was, it’s preserved underwater constantly, and  so far that preservation appears to be completely there, and we’ll continue to inspect very closely,” Davis said. 

When it is up and running, the tunnel moves water that has been impounded to the powerhouse, so their specific focus right now is where those two meet.

They are also repairing the surge basin in Chimney Corner where there had been some leaks. This is the area that resembles a pool that releases some of the water and pressure from the tunnel.

Once the water makes it to the powerhouse it helps to generate hydropower to the Alloy Plant. When this project is expected to be completed in mid-November, they predict a quick turnaround to get it back to normal. 

“As we demobilize the project crews, we’ll reopen the access areas in terms of the fishing platform that’s used there, the hiking trail, biking trail, etc.,” Davis said. “I know there’s a lot of interest from the local folks that go out there every day and take a walk and maybe exercise and go fishing, and so we want to get those areas restored as quickly as possible as well,” Davis said. 

Davis says the target end date is weather-dependent.

-Impacts on recreation:

-Closure of the “Hiking and Biking Trail” at Cotton Hill Bridge near the dam

-Closure of the tailrace fishing platform and parking area adjacent to the Hawks Nest Hydroelectric station

-The area known as the “Dries” will be flowing with the full of the New River during this time. This could be a public safety issue for paddlers. Recreators should be aware that the amount of water in the “Dries” will be consistent with the Thurmond gauge for the New River.

Anna Saunders
Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.