Note: This story was last updated at 5:30 p.m.
An eighth lane at the seven-lane Oak Ridge rowing course could cost more than $500,000 and up to about $1.2 million, officials said Tuesday.
The eighth lane has been on the wish list of rowers and many local officials for years. They say it would allow the Oak Ridge Rowing Association to compete for bigger races and international regattas, which require an eighth lane. It would also keep the site a top-tier rowing venue and provide more on-water capacity, allowing more competitors in events. It’s also expected to significantly increase the economic impact of rowing races, or regattas.
Officials announced a $250,000 state grant for the eighth lane in April 2015.
In August, the city hired Barge, Waggoner, Sumner, and Cannon Inc. for design and survey work, among other tasks.
A March 1 memo from BWSC to Jon Hetrick, Oak Ridge Recreation and Parks director, outlines five construction options with various estimates of probable costs ranging between $543,771 and $1,162,444. The five estimated construction costs include a 20 percent contingency. All five options would include a retaining wall and earthwork, which would include excavation and dredging.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson told City Council members during a non-voting work session on Tuesday evening that the city is targeting the lowest cost option, the $543,771 option.
The probable costs vary depending upon the evaluation of specialty items required for construction, BWSC said. The company gave three construction options that include one type of a retaining wall known as a gabion basket wall and two options for what is known as a sheet pile wall.
The three options that include a gabion basket wall are more expensive. It’s a traditional wall system installed by several local and regional contractors, and the wall plan and bank stabilization are the same as shown in a required permit.
But with that type of wall, the cost for dewatering is unknown, more excavation is required, more land will be moved, and the construction period could last longer, among other things. The wall could also affect Melton Lake Drive.
The sheet pile wall system, which is less expensive, requires less excavation and land disturbance, no dewatering, and has less potential impact on Melton Lake Drive. Also, fewer subcontractors would be involved.
But the finished look of that type of wall would be different than originally anticipated, and there is uncertainty about the cost of required anchors. Also, that wall could require permit modifications.
Watson said the city has a $20,000 commitment for the project from the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau and Oak Ridge Rowing Association could give $25,000 each, he said.
City officials could also ask nearby government, rowing, and tourism agencies, including in Anderson County, Clinton, and Knoxville, if they would contribute as well. Some of the rowers stay in nearby cities when they compete in Oak Ridge, including at hotels in Clinton and west Knox County.
The eighth lane has been in the Oak Ridge Capital Improvement Plan since 2005. This is the most progress that has been made since then.
“This is our best shot at getting it done at this point in the history of the city,” Watson said.
In August, Hetrick said a $250,000 grant was approved in the fiscal year 2016 state budget for the eighth lane. He said there was a grant allocation from the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. Hetrick said the City Council has approved a request for an additional $150,000 from the city Capital Improvement Plan.
Hetrick said BWSC has worked with the city to provide conceptual planning and permitting assistance for the eighth-lane project, including to acquire extensions of the project permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The construction estimates released this month came in higher than expected. In April 2015, Oak Ridge City Council member Rick Chinn, the father of two former rowers and a rower himself, said a rough estimate showed the eighth lane could cost about $350,000 total, meaning the city might have to contribute up to $100,000 to complete the project. That $350,000 estimate appears to be in line with some earlier estimates.
On Tuesday, Chinn suggested that Watson ask Anderson County and its Tourism Council if they want to contribute to the project. Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch said Clinton officials should be approached as well, and Watson said he will also ask the Knoxville convention and visitors bureau.
Local officials emphasize the economic impact of the rowers in Oak Ridge and the region, pointing out that they stay at local hotels, eat and shop at local restaurants and grocery stores, and buy gas here. In April 2015, Tennessee Representative John Ragan, the Oak Ridge Republican who spearheaded the effort to get state funding, said the regional impact of the regattas in Oak Ridge is estimated at $13 million now, but it could increase to $33 million, according to a University of Tennessee study.
Last spring, Chinn and Russell Byrd, board president for the Oak Ridge Rowing Association, said most of the eighth lane is clear already, but there is a “pinch point” between the ORRA boathouse and the former Riverside Grille upstream. Byrd estimated that there might be less than 500 feet that has to be cleared to make the eighth lane.
The eighth lane will be one of several recent improvements at Melton Lake Park. Others include a new pavilion at the park and new bathrooms and changing rooms where the New China Palace restaurant used to be, a change that rowers say they greatly appreciate.
The stretch of water used by the Oak Ridge Rowing Association is considered among the nation’s best and loved by rowing teams.
The Oak Ridge rowing course is on the Clinch River, also referred to as Melton Hill Lake, at Melton Lake Park in east Oak Ridge.
Watson said the details of the eighth lane project will be worked out, and a bid brought back to City Council.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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