The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection wants people who live downstream of earthen dams along Big Wheeling Creek to know what could happen if the structures ever failed.
Visitors to the Wheeling City-County Building recently may have seen two related ''notices'' posted by the DEP in the lobby. The documents mention two dams located in Washington County, Pa. - Enlow Fork Dam and Robinson Fork Dam - that feed into Big Wheeling Creek in Ohio County. The structures are described as ''high hazard'' dams, which means if a failure of either were to occur, the populated areas downstream would be endangered. The emergency action plan and water inundation map, according to the notice, can be read at the Wheeling-Ohio County Emergency Management Agency office, located in the basement of the City-County Building.
Lou Vargo, EMA director, said the state DEP periodically updates the dams' emergency evacuation plan contact list information, leading to the posting at the city building. While the notices appear to give dire warnings, Dave Weaver, county planning officer and GIS coordinator, said the plan is for the ''worst-case scenario'' and likely will never happen.
''We plan for the absolute worst,'' Weaver said. ''This is the worst-case scenario or biblical proportions - I would consider this biblical proportions.''
He pointed to the remnants of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. During that storm, the Middle Creek Dam was monitored and did not overflow. He noted people who saw the dam during the storm told him water did come close to the top, but the emergency spillway worked as it should.
''This did not happen in 2004. ... It would take even more (rain) than 2004,'' Weaver said.
In the case of a dam failure, the plan includes a map that estimates areas that would be inundated with water flowing downstream from Big Wheeling Creek. For example, in the city of Wheeling, the largest area that would be inundated is about 1.4 miles wide and covers most of Elm Grove, Edgwood and Woodsdale. However, the model, provided to Ohio County by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, does not include the impact on the Ohio River, he noted.
''This plan is not to scare people. It's so they know there's a plan in place,'' said Roger Adams, chief of the Division of Dam Safety at the Pennsylvania DEP.
Vargo said the dams are maintained and inspected on a regular basis. And during times of major rainfall, they are closely monitored with people making site visits. In addition to the Enlow and Robinson dams in Washington County, Pa., there are four Marshall County dams that feed into the creek: Dunkard, Wolfe Run, Turkey Run and Grandstaff.
The Middle Creek Dam is the only Ohio County earthen dam that feeds into the creek. In the case of an impending dam failure, there likely would be some lead time to warn people and evacuate them, Weaver added. In addition to using media outlets, the county also can send pre-recorded messages to people's landline telephones.
Weaver's advice for such a flood: ''Go uphill.''
The highest point in Ohio County, he added, is located in Dallas.
Weaver said anytime someone wants to check out the action plan and view the inundation maps, he is happy to assist them and answer any questions they may have.