John Fromuth, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, Orwell Dam site maintenance lead, uses a specialized tool to open and close the dam’s lock chamber near Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Nov. 5.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – John Fromuth, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, Orwell Dam site maintenance lead, uses a specialized tool to open and close the dam’s lock chamber near Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Nov. 5. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Steel bulkheads are lowered into the water to shut off the spillway so engineers can open and close the dam gates at Orwell Dam near Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Nov. 5.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Steel bulkheads are lowered into the water to shut off the spillway so engineers can open and close the dam gates at Orwell Dam near Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Nov. 5. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

It was a matter of timing and safety as a construction crane and hardhat personnel took to their roles at the Orwell lock and dam facility for a routine inspection located near Fergus Falls, Minnesota, Nov. 5.

The St. Paul District, with the assistance of Korby Construction Crane, lowered steel bulkheads into the water to shut off the spillway so engineers could open and close the dam gates.

“This is a very critical dam,” John Fromuth, site maintenance lead, said. “The dam is operational year round because there is no emergency spillway.”

The purpose of the inspection was to gather data needed to maintain the dam and ensure it will continue to perform adequately. Corps engineers focused on a detailed examination of the dam’s concrete, mechanics and overall structure. The last periodic inspection at this site occurred in 2015.

The St. Paul District maintenance and repair crew from Fountain City, Wisconsin, were responsible for most of the maintenance work; a high-risk job where safety is paramount.

Secured in a harness, deckhand Dakota Koenig, carefully lowered himself down a ladder 50 feet into the belly of the dam to repair an ice shroud (heat shield) made of corrugated sheet metal. Tools were lowered down by a rope to assist with the repairs.

“The continuous flow of water causes ice to form and break the sheet metal apart,” Koenig said. “I was there to repair the metal, corroded seals and other maintenance items.”

Mike Gunderson, maintenance and repair foreman, kept a close eye on his team as they performed their duties around the dam facility. He said his guys were extremely efficient and instrumental in performing the inspection repairs in a safe manner. “Safety is our number one priority,” Gunderson said.

His first periodic inspection, Fromuth couldn’t agree more.“This sunny, 40 degree day is perfect for the 67-year-old dam inspection,” he said. “The three-day inspection was a team effort with so many players from Lac qui Parle, to Orwell to water control and environmental.”

Along with seeing the drawdown of the river level, Corps employees were seen inspecting gopher holes; an animal that does not hibernate, and therefore can cause havoc on the dam facility, according to Fromuth.

Owned and operated by the Corps of Engineers, the 1953 dam was constructed with a height of 60 feet and a length of 1,344 feet at its crest. It is surrounded by seven acres of natural wildlife.